Weird visitations from beyond the grave: werewolf detectives and golden age investigators; haunted houses and the spirits of the suburbs – enter the weirder world of crime fiction, where police procedurals and murder-mysteries overlap with uncanny happenings…
The Mysterious Mr Quin by Agatha Christie
A collection of a dozen intertwined short stories from the grand dame of classic crime, the Mr Quin mysteries dip a toe into a more whimsical world than Christie’s solidly scientific sleuths. There’s a ghost story or two and the usual range of golden age escapades: a country pub in a storm; an inappropriate affaire du coeur; socialites living it up at Monte Carlo casinos; jewel thefts, suicide and murder – but Quin himself is a paranormal puzzle and a couple of the stories dally in darker waters. The Voice In The Dark explores séances and spiritualism, while Harlequin’s Lane revolves around the ‘I see dead people’ theme.
One of Christie’s lesser-known works, but just as intellectually rewarding as her mainstream novels and with a slyly supernatural twist.
Souls Disturbed by Kath Middleton
These three novellas explore supernatural stirrings in the suburbs, and are set in the ‘soft edges’ of ordinary, everyday English life, where the boundaries between ‘unremarkable’ and ‘unexplained’ can become blurred. In each tale, the past reaches into the present to influence events. But the spookynatural side of things isn’t really at the core of the stories. Instead they are about human relationships at pivotal moments in life. What happens in a long-established relationship when one partner suddenly develops a new obsession? How desperate might a young woman feel if she’s unable to conceive a child?
Souls Disturbed takes three oblique approaches to real life anxieties – the fear of death or mental illness, of loss and bereavement, of failure and betrayal. Serious stuff. Or you can just read them as straightforward ghost stories, of course…
The Room Beyond by Stephanie Elmas
This creepy mystery maintains almost all of the grand traditions of the Victorian gothic ghost story. It’s set in modern times, with a parallel tale harking back to an earlier era. In the here-and-now, an eccentric wealthy family hire a troubled young woman to be a companion for their oddly precocious child. Our heroine, a rudderless, isolated orphan, is unusually sensitive to weird things. And no sooner does she arrive at the tall townhouse in achingly fashionable Kensington, than weird things start occurring all around…
The creaking, dusty, dank old houses are full of peculiar paintings, hidden chambers and confusing corridors. The family members are by turns beguiling and ominous. And the two stories reflect and tangle their paired narratives together until they unmistakably become one tale; of misery, mystery, corruption, insanity and the supernatural.
Roman Dalton, Werewolf PI by Paul D Brazill
Don’t be put off by the fact that this protagonist is furry on the outside; he’s every bit as gritty a gumshoe as you’ll ever encounter in hardboiled crime. These six short, sharp stabs share an awful lot of similarities with Frank Miller’s Sin City – if not in geographical location then certainly in style and sensibility, and in the blood running into the gutters of the sleazy backstreets.
Within this collection you’ll encounter femmes extremely fatal, throwaway one-liners so sharp it’s a surprise the pages ain’t flayed, menacing gangland bosses with tribes of easily-identified henchmen, tantalisingly obscure musical references and the odd Shakespearean reference, too. At the core of the stories stalks the protagonist himself, an emotionally bruised and physically battered investigator who can be horribly vulnerable and hideously violent. And yeh, he’s a werewolf.
Asking For The Moon by Reginald Hill
Back to terra firma (for a while) with detectives Dalziel and Pascoe whose investigations rarely stray from the black-and-white world of the typical British police procedural. Here, Reginald Hill lets himself experiment a little more – so Pascoe’s Ghost pays homage to Edgar Allan Poe, while Dalziel’s Ghost sees the two coppers lurking in a graveyard at midnight, awaiting the arrival of something supernatural – or not!
The anthology ends with the first murder on the moon, rounding out a quirky collection.
The Charlie Parker series by John Connolly
No round-up of crime fiction with a supernatural angle could possibly be complete without mentioning the Charlie Parker series – perhaps the ultimate example of how detective fiction can stray into uncanny territory without undermining the literary heft of the whole enterprise.
16 books ago, ex-police Parker was a traumatised private investigator, on a fairly straightforward mission of retribution hunting serial killers and child abductors in New England – something like Jack Reacher by way of Stephen King, with just a hint of the odd about it. As the series has matured, so it’s developed its own, unique identity and an unmistakeable atmosphere of the uncanny.
Parker always faces a real-world opponent; a cult, a killer, or an isolated backhills community where unspeakable things happen to unwary strangers. Yet the undercurrent of otherworldliness has developed steadily. At first, you could believe that the visitations from his dead wife and child were merely manifestations of Parker’s own tortured psyche. But now… now he is clearly an agent of greater forces, and the hinted-at powers of his living child are nearly as weird as those of her dead sibling.
On top of all that, each book offers a self-contained mystery and some of the best supporting characters you’re ever likely to meet. The smart-ass dialogue – so witty, so knowing, so affectionately written – between Louis and Angel is, quite simply, superb. Start this series at the beginning, and enjoy it as it matures. The next one is out in early 2018…
And there’s more: here’s half a dozen of our other favourite creepy crime reads