Westside Stories: The Gilda Carr Tiny Mystery Fantasies by W.M. Akers
Westside, Westside Saints, and Westside Lights (Harper Voyager, 2019, 2020, and 2022). Cover designs by Owen Corrigan.
First I heard of W.M. Akers’ Westside books was when Jeff Somers blurbed the first volume for the Best Science Fiction & Fantasy of May 2019 at The Barnes & Noble Sci-fi & Fantasy Blog. Here’s what he said.
In an alternate 1920s Manhattan in which a heavily fortified wall running along Broadway divides the island into Eastside, where the normal laws of reality still apply, and Westside, where things have gone down the magical drain, the latter has become a magical wasteland where only the dregs of society — criminals, artists, and drunks — remain. Gilda Carr calls Westide home, and works as a private investigator specializing in bite-sized mysteries like recovering lost gloves. Somehow, though, her latest case pushes her into a gangland war that connects to her own long-missing father and the reason for the Westside’s descent into unreal chaos. As much as she might like to, Carr can’t sidestep the responsibility she suddenly feels to get to the bottom of both mysteries, for her own sake and that of everyone living in the magic-ravaged city. Akers’ hugely enjoyable debut marries inventive alt-history with truly strange magic and a protagonist you won’t soon forget.
An alternate 1920s Manhattan, a magical wasteland, and a PI who only takes tiny cases? You know I need to check out this one. Westside was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year; sequel Westside Saints arrived a year later. Westside Lights, published in March, closes out the trilogy.
[Click the images for less Tiny versions.]
Back covers for Westside, Westside Saints, and Westside Lights. Click for legible versions.
Kirkus Reviews called Westside an “addictively readable fusion of mystery, dark fantasy, alternate history, and existential horror… unlike anything you’ve ever experienced before.”
Andrew Liptak at wrote up the second one at Polygon, saying:
W.M. Akers follows up his debut novel Westside with Westside Saints, a mystery set in an alternate, Jazz-era New York City. The city has been split into two zones, where the east side is a prosperous metropolis and the west an overgrown wasteland. In Westside, Akers introduced readers to Gilda Carr, a detective who specializes in “small mysteries,” and who ended up trying to solve the mystery of her missing father.
In this new adventure, Carr stumbles upon a new mystery when she’s hired by a group of street preachers from the Electric Church to recover the severed finger of a lost saint. They believe that this digit will bring about a resurrection, and Carr drawn in when her dead mother unexpectedly returns…
Closing volume Westside Lights has received plenty of good press as well, including a starred review at Library Journal, which said in part:
Westside is a magical, dangerous and desperate place, a walled-off bit of 1923 Manhattan where magic almost works; science rarely does; and the night is creeping with death, omnivorous plants, and sin… In the wake of the bloody battles that ended the previous book, Westside Saints, Gilda has a last case to solve, the mystery of where her adopted bird has disappeared. This leads her to bigger and deadlier things, like a massacre on her boat, a desperate flight from the police who are certain she is responsible, and a crazed hunt to solve the murders… Highly recommended for readers who like their genres so bent that they flow into each other, where the fantasy is so dark it’s nearly horror and the mystery uncovers rot and magic in equal measure.
I haven’t tried this series yet, but the wide range of praise (and a description that includes both “fantasy so dark it’s nearly horror,” and the magical phrase “omnivorous plants”) commands my attention. It’s clear I need to read these books ASAP.
All three were published by Harper Voyager. Here’s the complete deets.
Westside (320 pages, $16.99 paperback/$11.99 digital, May 7, 2019)
Westside Saints (304 pages, $16.99 paperback/$9.99 digital, May 5, 2020)
Westside Lights (288 pages, $27.99 hardcover/$12.99 digital, March 8, 2022)
See all our recent coverage of the best new series SF and fantasy here.
Here’s how much searching for an agent has warped my ability to read book reviews: I see the magical phrase “omnivorous plants,” remember which agent mentioned in his bio that he raises carnivorous plants as his main hobby, and rushed off to see whether he reps W.M. Akers (apparently not). Sometimes I miss just being a fan. These books look like so much fun.
That’s hilarious! And sad. Can we ever stop having to hustle once we become writers? I don’t think there’s any turning back.
Decades ago I read John Barth’s famous story “Lost in the Funhouse,” about the man who stumbles behind the mirrors in a carnival funhouse, and discovers how the magic is done. He realizes that now that he knows the trick, he can never really enjoy the funhouse again. All he can do is try and make it fun for others.
The story is (among many other things) a poignant warning to aspiring writers. We should have listened. 🙂