Mike Resnick, Stalking the Unicorn: A Fable of Tonight (Tor, 1987)

MISSING:

One unicorn.  Answers to the name of "Larkspur."  Distinguishing marks: Perfect ruby embedded in forehead.  Last seen in the company of Murgensturm, elf, whose job was to guard said creature. Priceless.  Hefty reward.

THE SUSPECTS:

Murgensturm: His story doesn't add up.  What is the elf hiding?
Flypaper Gillespie: This raunchy, obnoxious little leprechaun may be the only one who knows where Larkspur is.  But he's on the run, and no one wants him found.
The Grundy: The embodiment of evil for two worlds, and certainly the most dangerous being alive.  What would he want with a unicorn?
The Great Mephisto: Real magician, or card sharp? He's out for himself... right?

THE GOOD GUYS:

John Justin Mallory: Down-and-out detective, whose wife ran off with his partner, sticking him with the dirty laundry and an irritated mob, and past-due rent on apartment and office.  He's got nothing else to lose; why shouldn't he take the impossible case?  His client's a shifty elf, his opponent's Evil, and his deadline is measured in hours.  No problem.
Colonel Winifred Carruthers: One of the greatest experts on unicorn hunting in the world.  She's come out of retirement for the occasion.
Felina: A cat-girl with a taste for cream, a nose for trouble, and a thirst for excitement.  She's as loyal as any cat.
Eohippus: A six-inch tall horse whose main goal is to avoid becoming a cat treat.

THE STORY:

When John Justin Mallory is approached on New Year's Eve by an elf, he figures it's just the alcohol talking.  A hefty retainer -- and the promise of help escaping the mob goons intent upon taking out his vanished partner's debts upon him -- convince Mallory to take the case and journey to a Manhattan where sanity and rationality are optional.  He's got one night to find the missing unicorn, or else his client faces death for failing in his duties.  But the more Mallory sees, and the more he learns, the less he trusts Murgensturm.  When the elf vanishes, Mallory is on his own in a world that plays by distinctly different rules.  Here, Gnomes of the Subway eat subway tokens, elephants walk down Fifth Avenue, strippers take it all off -- including their skin -- ghosts reenact forgotten plays after midnight, and a chess game has been in progress since 1937. Mallory will encounter a host of bizarre people and strange creatures, all to hunt down a missing elf, an even more missing leprechaun, and to find Larkspur.  And if the leprechaun dies, Mallory may never go home again.  It's supernatural investigation with a surreal twist, filled with sly humor, comic undertones, and pulp sensibilities. In short, it's as though Ross MacDonald and Monty Python had gotten drunk with Lewis Carroll, and written a book together.  Stalking the Unicorn is clever and funny, and one of those books I return to every so often just for the satisfaction of a familiar, well-told semi-urban fantasy.
 

[Michael M. Jones]