Crime books that are out of this world

14 June 2016

By Pan Macmillan

Crime is resilient. It will survive any apocalypse. As long as there are people, there are rules – and as long as there are rules, there are those finding new and innovative ways to break or enforce them. Which makes crime fiction the perfect genre to combine with other types of stories! There’s been a resurgence lately in popular TV shows that investigate crime through the lens of another genre – from Agent Carter (crime & superheroes) to the X-Files revival (crime & the paranormal) via Orphan Black (crime & sci-fi), Sleepy Hollow (crime & the supernatural) and The Man in the High Castle (crime & alternate history) – to name but a few.
 
And this makes sense, because fundamentally crime fiction is about transgression. A line has been crossed – who has crossed it, and how, and why? How can it be stopped from happening again? What are the consequences to the victims, to their families, to the investigators, to the line-crossers themselves…? These basic questions can build a compelling crime story in any time and place, be it the present day, the distant past, the far future, an alien planet or another reality entirely.
 
So, here are some of our favourite examples of crime novels which lift these questions out of our everyday reality, and into some altogether more interesting settings.

 
Physicist and family man Jason Dessen is abducted, knocked out – and wakes up in a world that’s not his own. Strangers seem to know him. His wife is not his wife. His son was never born. And Jason is not an ordinary college physics professor, but a celebrated genius who has achieved something remarkable. Something impossible. Something that will haunt him and hunt him across hundreds of worlds, as he fights to find his way home. This is a gripping thriller about choices, paths not taken, and how far we'll go to claim the lives we dream of.

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When the body of a murdered woman is found in the extraordinary, decaying city of Beszel, somewhere at the edge of Europe, it looks like a routine case for Inspector Tyador BorlĂș of the Extreme Crime Squad. But as he probes, the evidence begins to point to conspiracies far stranger, and more deadly, than anything he could have imagined. Soon his work puts him and those he cares for in danger. BorlĂș must travel to the only metropolis on Earth as strange as his own, across a border like no other. With shades of Kafka and Philip K. Dick, Raymond Chandler and 1984The City & The City is a noir-tinged murder mystery unlike any other.

Read the first chapter
 


An adrenaline-fueled page-turner set in a near-future San Francisco, this is Inception meets Orphan Black. Tila and Taema are formerly conjoined twins, raised in a cult that shunned modern medicine. In desperate need of surgery to divide their shared heart, they escaped into the city. Then one night Tila stumbles home, terrified and covered in blood. She's arrested for murder, the first by a civilian in decades. The police suspect involvement with Verve, a powerful drug, and offer Taema a chilling deal. Taema must assume Tila's identity and gather information to bring down the drug syndicate. The police may then let her sister live. However, Taema's investigation raises ghosts from the twins' past...

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The ultimate crime-mashup, Douglas Adams' 'thumping good detective-ghost-horror-who dunnit-time travel-romantic-musical-comedy-epic' is a beloved cult classic. Dirk Gently, self-styled private investigator, sets out to prove the fundamental interconnectedness of all things by solving a mysterious murder, assisting a mysterious professor, unravelling a mysterious mystery, and eating a lot of pizza – not to mention saving the entire human race from extinction along the way (at no extra charge).

Read the first chapter
 


The ghost of Sherlock Holmes is dead, but who will solve his murder? The third book in Paul Cornell’s gritty Shadow Police (following London Falling and Severed Streets) returns to London’s supernatural underworld, where eliminating the impossible is not an option. DI James Quill and his team are gifted (or cursed) with the Sight, allowing them to see the forces of darkness that stalk London’s streets. On the tail of a criminal genius, they are soon lured them into a Sherlockian maze of clues and evidence. The team also have their own demons to fight. They've been to Hell and back (literally) but now the unit is falling apart...

Read the first chapter
 


London’s supernatural underworld is a popular setting for crossover crime novels – try Ben Aaronovitch’s Rivers of London series if your tastes run more to comedy than to dark and gritty. DI Peter Grant was an ordinary constable in the Met... until he found himself taking a witness statement from a ghost. Now he’s a constable and a trainee wizard – the first in fifty years – and life is somewhat more complicated.  Between nests of vampires in Purley, negotiating a truce between the warring god and goddess of the Thames, and digging up graves in Covent Garden, police work has taken an interesting turn. And there's something evil festering at the heart of the city, which Peter must destroy – or die trying.

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The inspiration behind the 1982 Ridley Scott film Blade Runner, this is a classic of the sci-fi-crime genre. World War Terminus has left the Earth devastated. Through its ruins, bounty hunter Rick Deckard stalks, in search of the renegade replicants who are his prey. When he isn’t 'retiring' them with his laser weapon, he dreams of owning a live animal – the ultimate status symbol in a world all but bereft of animal life. Then Rick gets his chance: the assignment to kill six Nexus-6 targets, for a huge reward. But in Deckard's world things are never that simple, and his assignment quickly turns into a nightmare kaleidoscope of subterfuge and deceit – and the threat of death for the hunter rather than the hunted.

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