by Barry Gardner

   Down these mean streets not only a man must go, but just about anything else you can think of. Garrett has a deceased representative of a race you never heard of who is slowly but inevitably decaying for a housemate, hires the occasional groll for strong-arm work, isn’t above banging a sexy copper-headed dwarf if the occasion arises, and has for a best friend a vicious half-breed vegetarian elf who makes Parker’s Hawk seem like a pussy.

   His cases involve not only gangsters, but vampires, ghosts, and assorted other malevolencies. No, Dorothy, we’re not in Southern California any more, nor West Oz or North Narnia either.

   Garrett is around 30, an ex-Marine and veteran of a decades-long war between the Karentine Empire (in whose capital, TunFaire, he lives) and the Venageti. He’s tough and flip, though his wisecracks haven’t the flair of the better of his “realistic” brothers. The retinue at his brownstone equivalent includes an aging servant with a bevy of marriageable but extremely ugly nieces; a large, colorful and profane bird known as the Goddam Parrot (a later addition); and the Dead Man, a yellow and much larger member of an enigmatic race who is quite dead but still kicking. In a manner of speaking.

   In general I haven’t been enamored of attempts to meld crime and fantastic fiction. Though Lee Killough and Mike McQuay have both gained some attention in this area, neither have particularly impressed me, the latter in particular. The Garrett books, to be fair and accurate, are more fantasy/adventure than detective stories, though there are mysteries and there is detection.

   Glen Cook is a prolific and in my opinion very, very good science-fantasy writer. He has authored a number of trilogies and series, among them the Black Company saga — one of my own all-time favorites — and a group known loosely as the Dread Empire series.

   He is one of the most adept of current writers at constructing mythic landscapes, but at the same time retains a focus on the characters who inhabit them; to me, a formidable combination. It’s unlikely that there are many with a liking for science-fantasy who haven’t discovered him, but for those few I have no hesitation in recommending any of his single books and series.

   There are seven books in this series to date, the last (and least) just having been released in February. All are paperback originals from Signet/ROC.

Sweet Silver Blues (1987). Garrett’s old war buddy, Denny, leaves his fortune to a lady whom his family doesn’t know, and they want Garrett to find her. Denny was a dwarf, by the way. Sister Rose, a dwarfish mixture of pulchritude and pure greed, would rather have the fortune than the heir. The trail leads to vampires, centaurs, and trouble.

Bitter Gold Hearts (1988). The son of a Stormwarden (a local variety of sorcerous very big shot) is kidnapped, and her deputy hires Garrett to help. The plot involves ogres and assassins, and if that wasn’t enough, the Stormwarden’s nubile daughter doesn’t seem to find Garrett unattractive.

Cold Copper Tears (1988). A woman from Garrett’s past and something almost as dangerous from the Dead Man’s make things interesting around TunFaire. Throw in a teenage girl’s street gang a few holy relics, a nihilistic cult, then stir twice and start counting the bodies.

Old Tin Sorrows (1989). Garrett owes a big favor to an old Sergeant who works for a retired General whom someone is trying to kill. Garrett takes up residence in the General’s mansion, which has a ghost who no one but Garrett can see. Then the dead come back to life, and more people die.

Dread Brass Shadows (1990). Garrett’s favorite redhead gets knifed for no reason, then two others show up who look a lot like her. An intra-species gang war starts among dwarves, and gangsters are after everybody. They all want the mysterious Book of Shadows, and Garrett hasn’t the foggiest.

Red Iron Nights (1991). A serial killer is gutting beautiful young women in TunFaire and removing their blood, raising spectres of cults and black magic. The City’s top cop wants Garrett’s help, and the lady gangster kingpin wants … something.

Deadly Quicksilver Lies (1994). While the Dead Man sleeps, Garrett is hired by a beautiful redhead, once mistress of a now-dead king to find her runaway daughter. Of course, it’s not that simple; it’s really about buried treasure and old debts, and everybody wants a piece of the action and of Garrett.

   These aren’t bad books at all. Lightweight, certainly, but decently written, and they furnish a passable way for some of us with a taste for both fantasy and crime fiction to combine our pleasures.

— Reprinted from Ah Sweet Mysteries #12, March 1994.

[UPDATE]   The series has continued since Barry wrote this overview, to wit:

8. Petty Pewter Gods (1995)
9. Faded Steel Heat (1999)
10. Angry Lead Skies (2002)
11. Whispering Nickel Idols (2005)
12. Cruel Zinc Melodies (2008)
13. Gilded Latten Bones (2010)
14. Wicked Bronze Ambition (2013)