Karen Lord’s 2019 Unraveling is a standalone fantasy.
Forensic therapist Dr. Miranda Ecouvo put detectives on the trail of a serial killer. He’s caught and convicted. But it’s not clear why the killer killed or who put him up to it. Human justice cannot solve this. But someone else can.
Like his brother Trickster, Chance is an undying entity in human form. He has been pared down to his essential self, which has then been housed in a human avatar. He’s not wholly mortal or immortal. His liminal status fits him for a special mission: investigate the why and who of the serial killer’s murders. He asks Miranda for help.
Miranda walks through dreamscapes in search of the who. She cannot see the who, but she does figure out the why. The unknown instigator wanted immortality.
This is a fantasy police procedural, which means that Chance and Miranda have access to tools even more miraculous than those TV-show photo-processing apps that sharpen photos into more pixels than originally existed. One such tool is dreamscape travel, which allows investigators to examine and re-examine evidence, focusing on details mere memory would not record.
This book passes the Manila Envelope test. This story cannot be transformed into a mundane mystery simply by replacing the central McGuffin with a manila envelope. Elements of the setting (Miranda’s status-obsessed City) may draw from reality but the nature of the player on the other side, and their goal are rooted in fantasy.
It’s a diverting little mystery, with just one drawback: what happens if Lord realizes she can write mundane mysteries and so reach audiences much larger than speculative fiction could offer? Best if nobody mentions that possibility out loud or in print.