I did not set out to be a science-fiction writer, or an alternate-history writer, or whatever universe it is I have stumbled into and made my home. It is the mystery genre that has always sung sweetest to me, but I also find a special kind of magic in following mystery heroes—cops, detectives, determined amateurs, the whole range of investigator protagonists—through unfamiliar landscapes: distant planets (Blade Runner), bizarro realities (Jasper Fforde’s novels), or, I don’t know, a distant continent and the tortured psyche of mankind (Heart of Darkness). There is special electricity created by crossing the wires of what we know (the determined hero delving deep and deeper) with what is new and strange. Here’s the paradox, here (dare I say) is the mystery: the more alien it gets, the more powerful the shock of recognition.
Rick Deckard in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (played by Harrison Ford in Bladerunner). He's more of a bounty hunter, but he's definitely doing detective work, and it's definitely a weird world...
A great alternate-history novel, in which the Jews were given a thin stretch of Alaska in 1948, instead of Palestine. Meyer Landsman is a police detective who (with a Native Alaskan sidekick) searches for the killer of a rabbi’s son.
Another alt-history, also involving World War II (popular subject for alt-history!) We’re in Germany after the Nazis won; our detective, Xavier March, is an SS officer and a decent man in a corrupt system.
Thursday Next takes the lead in Jasper Fforde’s wonderfully weird series of the same name set in an insanely imaginative bizarro-world England where literature is wildly, wildly popular. Also, ducks are extinct, for some reason.
A futuristic twist on Sherlock Holmes that reimagines the hero as a gay black woman named Sara Holmes.
Gordianus the Finder in Steven Saylor’s Roman novels—Roman Blood is the first in the series. He’s a clever, pithy private investigator in the late days of the Roman Republic.
And finally, sort of off-game, but Dan Velasquez and Kirby Mazrachi in Lauren Beukes’s The Shining Girls; they’re a classic unlikely duo tracing a serial killer, but the serial killer can travel through time.
About Ben H. Winters
Ben H. Winters is the New York Times bestselling author of Golden State, Underground Airlines and the Last Policeman trilogy. The second novel in the trilogy, Countdown City, was an NPR Best Book of 2013 and the winner of the Philip K. Dick award. The Last Policeman was the recipient of the 2012 Edgar Award, and was also named one of the Best Books of 2012 by Amazon.com and Slate. Ben lives with his family in Los Angeles, CA.
A mind-bending novel set in a world governed by absolute truth, where lies are as dangerous as murder.
A young black man calling himself Victor has struck a bargain with federal law enforcement, working as a bounty hunter for the US Marshall Service in exchange for his freedom. He's got plenty of work. In this version of America, slavery continues in four states called "the Hard Four." On the trail of a runaway known as Jackdaw, Victor arrives in Indianapolis knowing that something isn't right -- with the case file, with his work, and with the country itself.
As he works to infiltrate the local cell of an abolitionist movement called the Underground Airlines, tracking Jackdaw through the back rooms of churches, empty parking garages, hotels, and medical offices, Victor believes he's hot on the trail. But his strange, increasingly uncanny pursuit is complicated by a boss who won't reveal the extraordinary stakes of Jackdaw's case, as well as by a heartbreaking young woman and her child -- who may be Victor's salvation.
Victor believes himself to be a good man doing bad work, unwilling to give up the freedom he has worked so hard to earn. But in pursuing Jackdaw, Victor discovers secrets at the core of the country's arrangement with the Hard Four, secrets the government will preserve at any cost.