All I wanted to do was write a light-hearted detective story in the hard-boiled tradition, with a little squeeze of fantasy just to juice things up. What I never planned to do was invent a whole other world. It happened like this. After a delightful weekend reading Dashiell Hammett stories, I got the urge to pull up my collar and go sleuthing myself. The result was a story called The Wooden Baby, in which a down-at-heel private investigator takes on a curious case involving a fairy changeling.
The Wooden Baby was my attempt at mashing together the two genres of crime and fantasy into a squirming hybrid. I also wanted to find a way to distil the classic gumshoe archetype down to his essence. This interest in the archetype, by the way, is one of the reasons I haven’t yet told you the fellow’s name. I certainly never intended for that one story to develop into a series. But, shortly after I’d written The Wooden Baby, something peculiar happened. I fell in love with my gumshoe’s coat. It’s a rather special coat, you see. Every time our nameless hero turns it inside-out, the material it’s made from changes: leather to gabardine, silk to tweed, sheet-steel to cosmic string. If I’m honest, it was a throwaway, a cute bit of business to help qualify my detective as weird. But, as soon as I’d written it, the idea hooked me. I wanted to know not only what case my gumshoe was going to solve next, but what other tricks that coat had up its sleeve.
Seven novelettes and one novel-length manuscript later, I found to my surprise that I’d not only built my gumshoe an office, but I’d also erected an entire city around it. String City. I’d also learned a lot more about that damned coat. Here’s what my gumshoe has to say about the place where he does business:
_Imagine a spider’s web made of cosmic string. String City’s the knot in the middle. Every time the web vibrates it sends echoes down into that knot. That’s what this city is: it’s all the sounds of the cosmos, all rolled into one.
In The Wooden Baby, you’re not aware of the gumshoe’s environment at all. His office sits – almost literally – in the middle of nowhere. If you stick with the series as it progresses – as I dearly hope you will – you’ll find the strange metropolis of String City gradually building itself around you. You’ll discover that the crime lords are Titans and the cops are mostly undead. You’ll meet fallen angels and singing syrens and a malevolent spider queen. You’ll learn to duck as the thunderbirds swoop overhead and you may just find yourself wondering what the hell’s going on inside the Still Point of the Turning World.
Ultimately, what I hope you’ll come to see is that, even though nothing in String City makes any sense, everything hangs together. That’s the hard part, by the way. Coming up with the weird stuff? That’s easy. Pump in some Greek myth, add a squirt of M-Theory and see what comes out the other end. Making the resulting concoction hang together? That’s tough … but it’s also critical, because above all things mystery stories have to be fair. Do I want to keep my readers guessing? Absolutely. Do I also want them to feel satisfied by the resolution of the story? You bet. But in order to achieve that I have to make rules, and I have to stick to them or the wheels of the story won’t go round. This, then, is the sweet spot where the twin genres of crime and fantasy do something other than merely collide – they actually become perfect bed-fellows. Because the truth is that fantasy fiction has to follow rules too. Take magic. You can’t use it willy-nilly, tripping out a miraculous deus-ex-machina every time you’ve got a sticky plot point to overcome. Just like mysteries, fantasies have to be fair too.
Are The String City Mysteries fair? I hope so. I trust you to tell me if they’re not. Are they weird? I like to think they are. If you make it to the end of the series will you have learned everything there is to know about String City, the town where all eleven dimensions occasionally unfold for all to see? Will the gumshoe’s casebook finally be closed? I wouldn’t bet on it. More importantly, will you ever learn the name of the gumshoe whose casebook it is? Ah, but that would be telling.
THE STRING CITY MYSTERIES
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