The “buddy cop” trope is pretty well-established. Take two officers who shouldn’t or wouldn’t work together—or who no one else wants to work with—and give them a crime to solve. “He’s an X, she’s a Y! Together, they fight crime!”
One of my favorite books growing up was Isaac Asmiov’s Caves of Steel. It’s a story with a simple pitch: human detective has to partner with a robot to solve a murder. It takes that time-honored trope of two mismatched partners having to work together, puts in the structural framework of a murder mystery, and then puts all that in a well-drawn futuristic setting.
Caves of Steel does a fantastic job of worldbuilding, showing us a future where the people of earth live in these vast domed cities, and there’s a festering resentment for robots (who take jobs) and the Spacers—the elite off-worlders who keep their thumb on the scale to hold the people of Earth down. Elijah Baley is the cop who is partnered with Daneel Olivaw, the first robot designed to pass as human, to solve the murder of a Spacer. The world of the story is used to set up the supposed “impossibility” of the murder, and then in the process of seeking a solution, the story interrogates its setting to find where the flawed presumptions are that make the “impossible” possible.
In other words: the mystery is the bones of the story, and the sci-fi is the flesh and blood that drives it. This is what I wanted to capture with the Maradaine Constabulary series.
In combining murder mystery with fantasy, my main goal, the challenge I put before myself, was to use the mystery as the engine of the plot, and to use that engine to explore the world of Maradaine, with its magic and complex society. How does the “impossible” murder get examined in a world that has magic in it? If magic is only understood by a handful of people—people who don’t cooperate with the constabulary—then how do crimes involving magic get solved? What happens when someone goes outside the bounds of what a mage is “supposed” to do in order to be a constabulary officer? That’s the journey that the engine of the murder mystery gets to take us on.
A Murder of Mages puts our two heroes—Inspectors Satrine Rainey and Minox Welling—together for their first case together, establishing the bond of partnership between them, and in doing so, showed us the city of Maradaine that they already know and live in.
The sequel to Caves of Steel was The Naked Sun, which takes the established pair and puts them in a new situation where they don’t know the world around them—they have to learn the setting in order to interrogate it. The same happens in An Import of Intrigue, where Rainey and Welling have to go into The Little East—a collective of foreign enclaves in Maradaine—to solve a murder as they learn the cultural minefield they’ve been thrown into. That was my way of upping the ante of the series without artificially inflating the stakes. The murder they have to solve involves a foreign dignitary, so things have the potential to escalate to an international incident. But that core engine of the story remains: someone’s been killed, and our heroes have to find out by who.
So come find out.
An Import of Intrigue by Marshall Ryan Maresca
Series: Maradaine Constabulary (Book 2)
Mass Market Paperback: 400 pages
Publisher: DAW (November 1, 2016)