Finch, the eponymous detective hero of Jeff Vandermeer's hallucinatory new novel, has the unenviable task of investigating a double murder where only one victim is human.  The other is a "gray cap," member of a race of sentient fungal beings who are the occupying forces of the city of Ambergris (also the setting for two of Vandermeer's previous books, City of Saints & Madmen  and Shriek: An Afterword).  "Occupying" is the mot juste here. Not only are humans second-class citizens of Ambergris; they're also susceptible to colonization by the gray caps, whose infectious spores kill or, in some cases, create human-fungal hybrids. 


Escalating tensions and distrust between the the city's factions make for an interzone that's equal parts Casablanca and Carcosa. Vandermeer's acclaimed dark fantasies owe as much to 19th-century decadents as they do to Michael Moorcock; with this book, he expands his territory to encompass classic noir, albeit filtered through his unique visionary sensibility.  Finch trudges through Ambergris' dank byways and criminal underground like Charles Baudelaire turned gumshoe, exposing conspiracy and treachery to the city's fungal mist.  The mashup of dreamscape and hard-boiled narrative makes for a sublime reading experience, The Big Sleep as fever dream.  "It took a long time and a lot of patience to kill a gray cap," Finch muses early on.  Fortunately, it takes only one mostly sleepless night for a reader to make the subterranean journey to Ambergris and back --  with absinthe and magic mushrooms optional.

July 23: Jessica Mitford died on this day in 1996.

Crime fiction legends Dennis Lehane and Michael Connelly discuss the new book that unites their beloved sleuths Patrick Kenzie and Harry Bosch.

Books, CDs, DVDs to know about now
Paradise and Elsewhere

Canadian short story marvel Kathy Page emerges as the Alice Munro of the supernatural from these heartfelt tales of shapeshifting swimmers, mild-mannered cannibals, and personality-shifting viruses transmitted through kisses.


When a persuasive pastor arrives in a sleepy farm town, his sage influence has otherworldly results (talking sheep, a mayor who walks on water). But can he pull off the miracle of finding kindly local Liz Denny the love of her life?  Small wonder looms large in this charmer from Andre Alexis.

The Hundred-Year House

When a poetry scholar goes digging through the decrepit estate of his wife's family to uncover a bygone arts colony's strange mysteries, he awakens a tenacious monster: his mother-in-law. A wickedly funny take on aging aristocracies from author Rebecca Makkai (The Borrower).