Publisher: Black Library
Genre: SF Crime
Publication Date: 2020
Welcome to Varangantua, a hive city where the criminals outweigh the innocent, and where death and danger lurk around every corner. Probators and enforcers fight for justice, but no man can hold back the tide . . .
Anthologies tend to be, by their very definition, a mixed bag. Take a dozen random stories, and there will always be some you like, some you love, and some you loathe. It’s the nature of the beast that not all of them are going to be winners. Black Library’s anthologies are no different. In all honesty, I don’t have a great history with them. But I keep buying them, because there’s always at least one good story in them.
No Good Men is the first anthology in the Warhammer Crime range. As you can expect, it’s main role is to introduce the setting and themes of Varangantua and the Crime range overall. On that basis, No Good Men is a massive success. Warhammer Crime has continually hit the nail on the head when it comes to the grittiness of the setting. I don’t think there’s any other part of the Warhammer 40,000 universe that has so firmly grasped a sense of tone. The probators and investigators we follow in this collection might get the answers they’re after, but they’re rarely pleased with what they find. And a lot of the time, the heroes don’t come out on top. There’s a weighty sense of despair and hopelessness hanging over each and every one of these stories, and it works to their advantage.
As for the stories themselves, it is in some ways the mixed bag I expected it to be, and in other ways it is not. Regarding the latter, I will say again that these stories are tonally brilliant. But they’re also fairly similar. A lot of the protagonists are cut from the same cloth, and while each brooding probator is a fascinating character in their own right, the anthology does feel a bit repetitive as a result. When you gather stories by theme and setting, this s always a danger, and it’s a hole that No Good Men falls into face-first. At times this does also feel like a testing ground for characters, and given that three of them now have novels of their own, that feeling may indeed be reality. I’d happily take a full novel about any one of them, but packed into an anthology, they do struggle to be distinct.
Chris Wraight’s ‘Aberrant’ features Agusto Ziarov from Bloodlines, while Guy Haley’s ‘No Use For Good Men’ sees a solitary Noctis from the Noctis and Lux novel Flesh and Steel. These are the two characters I am familiar with, and additional short stories about them were always going to be welcome. You don’t need to read the novels first, or vice-versa, but there are ties between them if you know what to look for. Marc Collins Quillon Drask from ‘Cold Cases’ also appears in Grim Repast, and on the strength of this short, I’m more eager than ever to read the full novel. The other investigators are yet to receive novels of their own, but I hope they do emerge.
Familiar names like Graham McNeill, Darius Hinks, and Nick Kyme sit alongside newer ones like Gareth Hanrahan in this collection, and I hope the Warhammer Crime Range continues to mic the old with the new. It’s certainly working for them so far, after all. I may not rate this particular anthology as highly as the novels, but the Crime range is still my favourite part of the universe. treat this as the sampler it is clearly intended to be, and I bet you’ll soon come around to my way of thinking.