Stalking the Unicorn
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Stalking the Unicorn is a novel, mixing the fantasy and mystery genres, by Mike Resnick. The paperback edition was published in the USA in 1987. The book is followed by two more adventures of the protagonists Stalking the Vampire published 2008 and Stalking the Dragon published in 2009.
Mallory, a private investigator from New York, spends New Year’s Eve in his office, with a bottle of whisky, and in a terrible mood. His business partner left for California with Mallory’s wife, having also blackmailed some of their clients. Since the infuriated victims head for the detective’s office, it seems that the night will end up tragically; yet, the plot suddenly takes an unexpected turn as in the room appears a strange creature, an elf called Mürgenstürm.
Mürgenstürm, who comes from an alternative world, is in equally serious trouble. He was obliged to guard a valuable animal, the unicorn called Larkspur. He neglected his duty and the unicorn was stolen. Now, the elf’s life is in danger, so he wants to take advantage of Mallory’s service.
As he has no other way out of trouble the detective decides to follow Mürgenstürm, and to search for the stolen animal. They enter the alternative New York through the gate in the basement of the very building where Mallory has his office.
When the detective examines the scene of the crime, he encounters the eye-witness, a cat-girl Felina, who, despite her cat-like personality, will become Mallory’s loyal partner. She reveals that the culprit is a leprechaun, Gillespie, who is working for a perilous and powerful demon Grundy that is responsible for spreading evil in both New Yorks. At the same time, the Grundy finds out about Mallory’s investigation and tries to dissuade him from taking further steps.
Nevertheless, Mallory does not abandon the investigation and in search of information about the unicorn visits various places in the alternative New York, such as the Museum of Natural History, full of dead yet regularly reviving animals, and Central Park, occupied by wholesalers offering completely useless goods.
On his way Mallory meets Eohippus, a six-inch tall horse that helps him find the expert on unicorns, a former huntress still craving for adventure, Colonel Winifred Carruthers. Unlike Mürgenstürm, who gradually turns out to be more an accomplice in the crime than the victim, Carruthers and Eohippus are valuable allies. Due to Colonel, Mallory comes into contact with a magician, The Great Mephisto, and finds out the motives for the crime. In the unicorn’s head there is a ruby that would enable the Grundy to move freely between the two worlds and gain more power than he has ever had.
After a long search Mallory reaches Gillespie’s flat on the 13th floor of a cheap hotel only to find out that the leprechaun ran away, the unicorn is already dead, and the gate between the two cities begins to close. In the meantime, Mallory’s partners, Colonel and Eohippus, are caught by Gillespie.
Soon after that the detective receives an invitation to the auction at which the precious ruby is to be sold. The Grundy appears there too, and he seems to have all the cards. Yet, it turns out that Mallory, with the help of Felina, has already found and hidden the jewel, which gives him an advantage over the enemy. Grundy sets Mallory’s friends free and agrees to wait until the detective delivers the ruby.
Mallory, who has no intention of letting the Grundy wreak havoc in both worlds, has the jewel transported to "his" New York just before the passage between the two worlds closes. Then he meets the Grundy only to inform him about it. Since the demon cannot be sure whether Mallory tells the truth he does not dare to kill the detective, but promises to have his revenge in the future.
Mallory is content to stay in the alternative New York, where his work makes more sense. He is determined to continue his struggle against evil having the noble Colonel and of the mysterious Felina at his side.
Literary Genres and Worlds in Stalking the Unicorn
Following John Justin Mallory’s adventures in the alternative New York the reader has the opportunity to visit not one, but three literary worlds.
The protagonist, Mallory, is an archetypal private investigator: a lonely spirits drinker, disappointed and exhausted with chasing and catching criminals who always get off with a fine. Seemingly cynical, he is sensitive to injustice and dreams of restoring order in the corrupted world.
The plot is also characteristic of detective fiction. It is organized around the theft of a precious object (the unicorn). The detective undertakes the investigation to save his client’s life. In time, the case appears to be more complex. The stolen object contains another one (the ruby) that gives its owner unlimited power, and the client (Mürgenstürm) is, in fact, involved in the crime and ready to betray the detective.
The investigation is the opportunity to present a collection of characters typical of noir fiction: the detective’s female partner (Felina), attractive and following her animal instinct; the mighty enemy (Grundy), an embodiment of evil; a petty but dangerous criminal (Gillespie). As the plot duly takes place in the urban setting, the investigator visits night clubs, bars and abandoned warehouses to meet figures from the criminal underworld: pimps, night porters, bodyguards.
The novel contains allusions to other works and characters associated with the detective fiction and belonging to popular culture. The very motif of stealing an object in which a more valuable item is hidden, is well known from The Maltese Falcon, and one of the magical paintings depicts Humphrey Bogart in a scene from the film adaptation of this story. In turn, The Great Mephisto’s mirror shows Bogart in another film that has never been made.
As the detective fiction provides the skeleton for the novel, the fantasy genre provides the large part of the setting.
Though the action begins in the "real" New York, most of the time it is set in the alternative one that is accessible through hidden gates.
The alternative New York is partly populated by fantastic creatures, mainly of folklore origin (leprechauns, elves, gnomes, genies, demons).
Interestingly, while using the fantasy convention the book breaks this convention. Multiple objects (magic wands, amulets, gems), typical of fantastic worlds, and presented there as endowed with magical properties, are commonly used in the alternative New York as well; yet, the inhabitants of the latter world deny presence of magic, explaining their functioning in a scientific way.
Stalking the Unicorn and Through The Looking Glass
There are certain parallels between the fantastic world created by Resnick and the dream world of Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There by Lewis Carroll.
In both novels a significant element is a game of chess. In Stalking the Unicorn Mallory meets Trenchcoat and Weasel, an ex-cop and an ex-criminal, who have been playing the same game of chess since 1937. Rules of the game, adapted by the couple, are so grotesque that neither of the players has a chance to win. Soon another game takes place. This time the players are Grundy, who embodies evil, and Mallory, representing good. Similarly as the game played by Weasel and Trenchcoat, this one cannot be won or lost, either. With his final move Mallory puts Grundy in check, but is unable to eliminate him; the demon is in the same position.
Another motif common to Carroll’s and Resnick’s novels is the mirror theme. The characters and phenomena Mallory encounters and witnesses in the alternative New York are often ridiculous opposites of the "real" ones. The offender and the policeman, Weasel and Trenchcoat, co-exist in harmony and fight a battle of wits, unlike their counterparts in the real world; in contrast to Mallory’s world where guardians of public order have to abide by the law but cannot bring criminals to justice, in the alternative New York hardly any law is abided by but, paradoxically due to it, justice can be implemented.