Crime novels like The City and the City
May 11, 2015 1:51 PM   Subscribe

I think China Mieville's The City and the City does a great job of taking a familiar detective/murder mystery premise and twisting in a very unfamiliar conceptual or sci-fi way. What are other books or short stories that do the same -- tell a familiar crime story but with a big genre/conceptual twist?
posted by lewedswiver to Media & Arts (32 answers total) 94 users marked this as a favorite
The Last Policeman trilogy.
posted by matildaben at 1:56 PM on May 11, 2015 [12 favorites]

Maybe not crime story per se, but Tim Power's On Stranger Tides (and also The Stress of Her Regard) are unbelievably skilled and very strange retellings of historical events. Yes, On Stranger Tides was licensed to make the Pirates of the Caribbean movie, but don't let that sway you--it is incredible.
posted by rachelpapers at 1:57 PM on May 11, 2015 [3 favorites]

The mystery novel that I always associate with The City and the City, partly because I read it around the same time, but mostly because of the atmosphere and themes, is Michael Chabon's The Yiddish Policeman's Union. It doesn't have the same level of conceptual mindscrew that The City and the City has, but it's alternate history and vivid portrayal of a Jewish quasi-state in Alaska is quite a trip.

Similarly, if you dig alternate WWII history and subversions of the morality of the classic detective story, Jo Walton's Farthing-Ha'penny-Half Crown series is great.
posted by firechicago at 1:58 PM on May 11, 2015 [14 favorites]

I feel like Philip K Dick does this all the time, like it's his day job and also a delightful nightmare where he literally cannot stop doing it. So, anything by PKD.
posted by easter queen at 2:06 PM on May 11, 2015

The City and the City reminded me of Colson Whitehead's The Intuitionist.
posted by janey47 at 2:07 PM on May 11, 2015 [6 favorites]

Kiln People, by David Brin, is a detective story in a world where people can copy their memories into different bodies.

This recent thread on occult mystery stories and this older one on sci-fi noir might have some relevant suggestions.
posted by mbrubeck at 2:09 PM on May 11, 2015 [3 favorites]

Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next series is mystery in a completely insane world where literature crimes include changing books that have already been published, impersonating literary characters, etc.

Glen Cook's Garrett series is noir mystery in a fantasy (shading into steampunk as the books go on) world.
posted by Etrigan at 2:15 PM on May 11, 2015 [5 favorites]

Sundiver by David Brin is a murder mystery set among aliens as well as whales and a chimp who have been genetically enhanced to the point of intelligence and language usage, and the last act of which is entirely set on a spaceship exploring the atmosphere of the sun. It's the first book in his first of two Uplift Trilogy, but doesn't really fit with the character or major arcs of those stories, early as it comes in the story of Uplift.

Also, the detective is a high-functioning schizophrenic, but he's self-treating in the fashion of the new paradigm in mental-illness treatment. That said, his alien friend really is a large talking plant that walks around; that's not just in his head.
posted by Sunburnt at 2:19 PM on May 11, 2015 [3 favorites]

Rivers of London and Ben Aaronovich's other Peter Grant mysteries use crime as a window into an alternate England where the old gods, vampires, black magic, and other folk horror staples exist (mostly) just out of sight of conventional reality. Well-written, funny, stay-up-way-too-late-reading material, at least for me.
posted by ryanshepard at 2:20 PM on May 11, 2015 [7 favorites]

I haven't read The City and the City but have read Mieville and I was thinking you'd like The Savage Detectives. It's not really a mystery but... sort of has some mystery elements.

The Jo Walton books mentioned above, especially that first one, are really great at being conventional mystery novels that also work as alternate history and also work as a social critique.

Paco Ignacio Taibo II writes conventional murder mysteries that have political and weird mystical elements.
posted by latkes at 2:24 PM on May 11, 2015

More on Paco Ignacio Taibo II: The subsequent The Uncomfortable Dead (2006) may be the most surreal and political book yet. Co-written with Subcomandante Marcos, a real-life spokesperson for Mexico's Zapatista movement, it swings between a complex case involving Hector, Elías Contreras, a detective for the Zapatista National Liberation Army, a government-backed murderer and assorted ghosts -- one who may be leaving messages on Hectoir's answering machine -- with arguments for the rights of indigenous peoples and rants against globalization and privatization. Of course, this being typical Taibo, the dead just don't stay dead, characters occasionally step outside of the book to discuss their progress and co-author Marcos even writes himself into the story. But the strangest thing about this unapologetic, politically charged story was actually nominated for a Shamus in 2007.
posted by latkes at 2:26 PM on May 11, 2015

Feersum Endjinn by Iain [M.] Banks (a standalone non-Culture novel) features a character who has been resurrected and must solve his own murder. A second plotline provides some interesting challenge for featuring an illiterate protagonist who writes his first-person account phonetically.
posted by Sunburnt at 2:30 PM on May 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

The wool books by Hugh Howley
posted by SpaceWarp13 at 2:52 PM on May 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

Jo Nesbø's The Redbreast is as much a crime novel as it is a love story set in the backdrop of Norway's complicated WWII history.
posted by a lungful of dragon at 2:52 PM on May 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

The Athenian murders by Jose Carlos Somoza features parallel plots in the notional ancient text as translated and in the footnotes of the translator.
posted by Jakey at 3:00 PM on May 11, 2015

You might enjoy The Broken Ones by Stephen Irwin. Grim detective noir set in a literally haunted post geomagnetic reversal near-future. Not as masterful as The City and the City, and it has a few too many ideas going on, but I found it a fun page turner.

Also Altered Carbon. Harboiled cyberpunk noir. Richard Morgan can be a bit of an acquired taste, but this is probably his least jarringly annoying novel.
posted by arha at 3:36 PM on May 11, 2015 [2 favorites]

Seconding Rivers of London, I loved both that series and The City and the City.

It's a bit more of a stretch, but TCatC is somehow connected in my mind to The Master and Margarita, which is incidentally completely amazing.
posted by you're a kitty! at 4:49 PM on May 11, 2015

Gene Wolfe's The Fifth Head of Cerberus is a set of interlocking postwar-colonial-planet-noir mysteries across three novellas in very different styles making up a single novel.

Michael Swanwick's Stations of the Tide is a similar SF mystery-adventure-strange world thing.

bonus: if you enjoyed the setting of The City & the City, Michaj Ajvaz's The Other City is an exploration back and forth across Prague and a second, surreal Prague coexisting like Besźel & Ul Qoma.
posted by The Bridge on the River Kai Ryssdal at 5:48 PM on May 11, 2015 [2 favorites]

For detecting, Kazuo Ishiguro's When We Were Orphans, for cities, The Unconsoled.
posted by betweenthebars at 5:57 PM on May 11, 2015

Any of Toby Ball's three books, starting with The Vaults.
posted by OrangeDisk at 6:20 PM on May 11, 2015

Seconding Gun, with Occasional Music!
posted by kenko at 7:01 PM on May 11, 2015

When Gravity Fails is my favorite scifi noir of all times.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 7:48 PM on May 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

I liked The Intuitionist and Gun, With Occasional Music. Although not exactly a detective story, Haruki Murakami combines noir and magical realism in a lot of his books and The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle is worth looking for if you haven't read it already. Paul Auster's New York Trilogy is in the same vein, and very good.
posted by orange_square at 11:03 PM on May 11, 2015

Paul Auster's City of Glass trilogy is both this and a wild existential deconstruction of detective novel tropes.
posted by klangklangston at 11:06 PM on May 11, 2015

It is only tenuously a murder mystery, but what about The Third Policeman by Flann O'Brien? Incredibly strange.
posted by lollymccatburglar at 1:46 AM on May 12, 2015

N-thing Paul Austor's New York Triology! David Mazzucchelli and Paul Karasik made a neat graphic novel adaptation named after the first story, City of Glass, which is also very much worth seeing.
posted by Joeruckus at 5:24 AM on May 12, 2015

Nobody else seems to have heard of it, but I quite liked The Bright Spot by Robert Sydney. It is a sort of near-future-old-school-noir-mystery-thriller played straight and fair.

For a more futuristic example, Marooned in Realtime by Vernor Vinge.

I can also second or third Gun with Occasional Music, although it is a little more over the top than The City and The City.
posted by AndrewStephens at 5:41 AM on May 12, 2015

I'm only about 15% of the way through it, but Alastair Reynolds' The Prefect sets up a great sci-fi (mass) murder mystery.
posted by easement1 at 8:45 AM on May 12, 2015

You need to read The Yiddish Policeman's Union, Chabon. Murder mystery in alternate world where instead of Israel being created. European Jews have set up in Alaska. Incredible book.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 12:36 PM on May 12, 2015

Murder mystery / lost identity / detective story, but set in an alternate history / slightly science fictional contemporary Ottoman empire: Pashazade, by Jon Courtenay Grimwood.

It is the first book in the Arabesk trilogy and comes with a blurb from (Mefi's own) cstross: "The only real heavyweight work of orientalist post-cyberpunk fiction ever written and I am green with envy... If you have time to read just one trilogy this year, get the Arabesk books."

(Also, a different blurb: "... Grimwood, quite unfairly, pulls off five genres: SF, fantasy, crime, literary, and noir.")
posted by RedOrGreen at 3:28 PM on May 12, 2015

Stanisław Lem's The Chain of Chance!

From Wikipedia:
Lem's treatment of the detective genre introduces many nontraditional elements. The reader is prompted not only to consider various suspects as possible culprits in a series of murders, but also the possibility that they have all happened purely by chance (hence the English title). In this way, the natural laws of probability and chaos theory play the role of suspects and characters in a murder mystery, lending elements of science fiction to the novel.

posted by glass origami robot at 9:35 PM on May 15, 2015 [1 favorite]

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