Sunday, September 23, 2012

Julius Katz Mysteries

My Rating: 5/5

Dave Zeltserman's Julius Katz mystery stories are classics of the mystery genre, but they have a distinct science-fiction element to them.  Julius Katz is a detective in the Sherlock Holmes mold, brilliant and always several steps ahead of everyone around him.  What makes the stories unique is the nature of his sidekick, Archie, who narrates the stories.  Archie is a self-aware computer program.

There are two stories in this collection, plus a sample chapter from a full-length novel.  The stories are flawless.  In fact, you could call them textbook examples of how to write a mystery story.  "Julius Katz" was published in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine and won a Shamus Award for best short story, and a Derringer Award for Best Novelette.  "Archie's Been Framed" was published in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, and won a Readers Choice Award.  

"Julius Katz" introduces us to Julius, chronically lazy genius detective, who never takes on a client unless he's running out of money, and Archie, his virtual sidekick who resides in a tie clip Julius wears.  He handles all of Julius's paperwork, and even answers the phone via an online interface.  No one but Julius knows that Archie hasn't got a body.

There is an intriguing mystery, and a fascinating exploration of the potential of a digital person.  We see Archie ponder his nature and his limitations, as well as his unique abilities.  And Zeltserman gives Archie a distinct, intriguing, and thoroughly entertaining personality.  He wants to learn how to be a better detective, so he pesters Julius to take on more cases, so Archie can watch and learn.

In "Archie's Been Framed," he takes it to another level.  Archie has been dating, sort of.  He's met someone on an online dating site, chatted with her on the phone, even generated a photo to send to her.  But he's done too good a job.  When a body turns up, all the clues point to the new boyfriend.  Yes, a computer program is accused of murder.

The stories are designed to appeal to mystery fans, but there's something for fans of science fiction too, all of it buoyed up by really excellent writing.  And if you like these stories, there is more.  Zelsterman has written a novel and another collection of Julius Katz and Archie short stories.

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