Introduction by Boyd White

Could smuggling Faerie fruit into Dorimare possibly be connected to the decades-old poisoning of Jeremiah Gibberty with the berries of merciful death?  What is the Society of Sparta’s motivation for engineering a suicide epidemic all across Europe in 1875?  Why do the Three Imposters sew discord and death throughout London as they search for an ancient Roman coin commemorating an orgy held by the Emperor Tiberius?   How can Ben Reichs possibly kill his chief business rival and avoid being demolished when the entire police force has telepathic powers that allow murderers to be detected before they even commit a crime?

The answers to these questions and many more are found in Lloyd Currey’s Fantastic Crime, a genre-bending selection of science fiction, fantasy, and horror that chronicles the exploits of robot detectives, telepathic masterminds, murderous ghosts, and fiendish secret societies.  The books Lloyd has gathered illustrate how classic elements from crime and mystery fiction have long been used to ingenious ends by writers from the fantastic tradition.

Since science fiction’s golden age, numerous authors have expanded the scope of crime and criminals by invoking a wide range of highly imaginative contexts.  E. E. Doc Smith’s The History of Civilization (1934 to 1948) pits the Lensmen, an interstellar peacekeeping force, against the Boskone, a ruthless galactic criminal organization bent on ruling the universe.  The defining space opera, Smith’s Lensman novels provided the blue print not only for DC Comics’ Green Lantern Corps but also George Lucas’ Star Wars saga, as well as numerous intergalactic police forces, such as Poul Anderson’s Time Patrol and Harry Harrison’s Special Corps.  Some of science fiction’s most thoughtful, enduring scenarios, however, involve crimes on a much smaller scale.  In Hal Clement’s Needle (1950), a symbiotic alien policeman and his quarry crash on Earth, respectively taking over the bodies of a young boy and his father as cop and criminal try to outwit one another.  Isaac Asimov’s The Caves of Steel (1954) introduces us to detective Elijah Bailey and his robot partner R. Daneel Olivaw who solve murders in the far future when tensions between humans and robots have reached the breaking point.  Ken Malone, an FBI agent who specializes in “impossibilities,” pursues a telepathic spy in Randall Garrett and Laurence Janifer’s Brain Twister (1962), and DeWitt Dawson, police chief of a small Texas town cut off from the rest of the world by an invisible alien barrier, investigates the death of a Mary Kay sales representative in Patricia Anthony’s Happy Policeman (1994).

Supernatural fiction, of course, has always had its share of investigators of the bizarre and unusual.  Most readers and collectors are familiar with K. and Hesketh Pritchard’s Ghosts: Being the Experiences of Mr. Flaxman Low (1898), Algernon Blackwood’s John Silence (1908), and William Hope Hodgson’s Carnacki the Ghost-Finder (1913), but what about Josephine Bacon’s The Strange Cases of Dr. Stanchon (1913), Uel Key’s The Broken Fang and Other Experiences of a Specialist in Spooks (1920), or John Nicholson’s Costello, Psychic Investigator (1954)?  Drawn into a number of strange disappearances and particularly gruesome murders, Arthur Machen’s Mr. Dyson participates in a memorable series of investigations that bring him into direct contact with the treacherous little people in The Three Imposters (1895), “The Red Hand” (1895) and “The Shining Pyramid” (1895).   Pulp great A. Merritt combines elements of hardboiled crime fiction with supernatural horror in two of his most memorable novels, Burn Witch Burn! (1933) and Creep Shadow! (1934) in which wisecracking New York mobsters team up with a skeptical neurologist to battle a range of dark forces, including an evil dollmaker and a two-thousand-year-old sorceress.  In his World-Fantasy-Award winning The Skin Trade (1988), George R. R. Martin extends the blending of crime fiction and supernatural fiction to its logical conclusion—having monstrous crimes investigated by actual monsters—as P.I. Randi Wade tackles a series of brutal killings with the help of Willie Flambeaux, a collection agent who is an actual werewolf.

Of course, a catalog of Fantastic Crime, by necessity, highlights not only criminals and their adversaries but also the plethora of incredible, over-the-top schemes and devices employed by both sides.  In Richard Marsh’s The Goddess: A Demon (1900), a Hindu idol clockwork automaton commits a series of grisly murders, and in Allan McIvor’s The Mechanic (1908), a brilliant engineer seeks revenge on corrupt industrial trusts by using fluids that deodorize oil and decompose metal.  Robert M. Coates’ The Eater of Darkness (1929) features a weapon that “sees through solids and applies remote-control heat to kill people invisibly.”  Sydeny Horler’s The Screaming Skull and Other Stories (1930) includes a “death beam transmitted over the wireless.”  C. S. Forester’s The Peacemaker is a bumbling schoolmaster who creates a machine that demagnetizes iron at a distance while Belli Luigi’s The Metal Monster (1951) is “a radio-controlled flying killer automaton. . . used for jewel smuggling.” Even the most jaded reader or collector must pause when considering David V. Reed’s The Thing That Made Love (1951), a bit of pulp-fiction insanity whose tag line “No Woman Could Survive Such Harrowing Ecstasy!” apparently refers to women being murdered by a metal swamp monster.

Match wits with Madame Koluchy—doctor, scientist, extortionist, bank robber, murderer—the criminal mastermind behind L. T. Meade’s The Brotherhood of the Seven Kings (1899), a super genius who precedes Siegel and Schuster’s Lex Luthor by three decades.  Try not to get lost while following Gabriel Syme of Scotland Yard’s Philosophical Policemen in G. K. Chesterton’s The Man Who Was Thursday (1908) as he infiltrates the Supreme Council of Seven, a clandestine terrorist group who may not be quite what it seems.  Wander with orphan Kirth Gersen in Jack Vance’s The Demon Princes (1964 to 1981) as he tracks down the five intergalactic criminals responsible for the death not only of his family but also of an entire planet.

Peruse Fantastic Crime, and discover worlds beyond Holmes and Moriarty.  Be quick.  The game is afoot!

(To view alternate copies of these books and additional fantastic crime titles, click here.)