In the introduction to Those Who Fight Monsters: Tales of Occult Detectives, editor Justin Gustainis makes a case for the fact that really, anyone who goes around hunting monsters in a real-worldish setting falls under the broad rubric of “occult detective”. After all, they’re looking for monsters to kill, which means detecting them, and those monsters are certainly occult, so there you have it. Which strikes this reviewer, at least, as a bit of a bait-and-switch; drop the subtitle and you’ve got a more accurate assessment of what the book is about, without the need for that sort of tortured logic.
That being said, your enjoyment of this book will be determined entirely by whether you buy Gustainis’ argument. if you do, then you’re probably going to get a kick out of the collection, which consists largely of a Superfriends-level lineup of the big names in paranormal romance. If you don’t and you’re expecting something a bit more Carnacki-ish, you’re going to be very disappointed.
As might be expected, Gustainis’ story is the best of the collection, and also the truest to the classic occult detective model. His detective, Quincey Morris, outwits both a demon and the man who made a deal with it and does so in suitably stylish fashion. A close second is Carrie Vaughn’s story of a murder that isn’t quite what it seems, seasoned with a bit of moral ambiguity that adds welcomed depth. Tanya Huff’s piece is another strong contender, mixing detection elements with strong character development and a sense of sympathy that’s largely absent from the other tales.
On the other hand, many of the other pieces are in a rush to get to the monster-slaying, to the point of bypassing attempts at detection or, in some cases, internal logic. Jackie Kessler’s story feels like slapdash soft-core porn, with multiple instances of the POV character announcing “Yum!” as a summation of what’s going on. T.A. Pratt’s piece wastes a good setup on a rushed and morally dubious ending. And C.J. Henderson’s Piers Knight story has an unnecessary and unpleasant detour in the middle that detracts from an interesting framework.
Generally, reviews of a book like this are useful only to a small minority of readers. Those who love paranormal romance and the authors whose work is contained therein – Lilith Saintcrow, Rachel Caine, Julie Kenner et alia, are going to adore this book, as it’s very much a greatest hits-style sampler platter. Those who don’t care for the genre are going to find it tough and unsatisfying sledding. And those who dive into it expecting the more traditional sort of occult detection are going to be very surprised, and probably not in a good way.