As is inevitably the case with anthologies, each reader will prefer some stories over others. In this case all of the stories follow some sort of fantastical story involving mystery-solving.
Joe Cron’s “Case Cracked” is simple but entertaining. It has a little bit of a nursery rhyme vibe as the detective in question is one Frank Dumpty, of the Magic City Police Department. He’s trying to solve the murder of a troll but gets taken off of the case. Of course that won’t stop him from finding out what’s going on! Kevin J. Anderson’s “Role Model” sees his Dan Shamble, zombie P.I., character trying to solve a murder at a cosplay convention. This is a story I’ve read before, in Anderson’s collection Selected Stories: Horror and Dark Fantasy. It’s a quirky and fun read, and is one of those stories that’s worth re-reading. Both of these stories are humorous in tone.
In Dayle A. Dermatis’s “Living with the Past,” Nikki, a former party girl and current ghost magnet, helps to connect a dead Marilyn Monroe impersonator with her living granddaughter. Kara Legend’s “Under Oregon” fits only the loosest definition of a detective story. Young Evangeline doesn’t want her family to go broke and have to move away from their farm, so she has to find a valuable item she’s been accused of stealing. It’s an interesting little tale.
Karen L. Abrahamson’s “All She Can Be” introduces us to a world in which Gifted people can change the very landscape itself, and one Vallon Drake has been trained to counteract those who would do so. She’s assisting the aptly-named Dick Manley, and runs afoul of office politics as the two try to find the perpetrator of a particularly big change. This one made me want to read more in this world.
Ryan M. Williams presents us with a dinner-time murder mystery in his “Death in Hathaway Tower”. An elf comes looking for a shape-shifting murderer, and Emily Hathaway has to help him figure out which of her guests is being impersonated. Alistair Kimble’s “Trouble Aboard the Flying Scotsman” sees Harland Stone trying to figure out the source of sabotage on his train, and a rather adorable and mysterious creature comes to his aid.
Paul Eckheart’s “Containing Patient Zero” sees an executed prisoner come back as a zombie, and patient-zero zombies are highly contagious. Dr. Joseph Nelson has to figure out why Leroy “Little” Star isn’t resting, and find a way to send him on to the afterlife. I found the story slightly confusing at the end, but very good overall.
Juliet Nordeen’s “Canine Agent Rocky Arnold vs. The Evil Alliance” is wonderfully fun, told mostly from the point of view of a German Shepherd whose person is an FBI agent. He has to find a missing girl at the dog park. Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s “An Incursion of Mice” involves a cat’s hilarious understanding of what constitutes a crime (“We had no explosion. Ergo, we had no crime.”), starving mice, and cat pride politics.
Perhaps my favorite story in here is also the longest: Dean Wesley Smith’s “They’re Back!” It’s a Vegas story of superheroes and gods, such as Poker Boy, Stan (the God of Poker), Patty (Front Desk Girl), Screamer, Sherri, Lady Luck, The Bookkeeper, and Ben. The Slots of Saturn–slot machines that eat people’s souls–were defeated by Poker Boy and his allies ten years ago. Only now, they’ve somehow returned. If destroying them once didn’t stop them, how can they be stopped this time? There are a couple of questions I had that went unanswered, but the story is interesting enough that I’m still glad I read it. The setup is certainly unique and fun!
Overall this is an enjoyable collection, and I look forward to reading more volumes of Fiction River.