Thursday, January 31, 2008

The Vampire Of New York - Lee Hunt

The Vampire Of New York
Lee Hunt


In 1863, a passenger ship from England is thrown onto the rocks off of the Newfoundland coast. Many passengers perish, including a young man from Ireland, Enoch Bale. Enoch didn’t drown. He was cast adrift with a nobleman who was chased out of England and his native Walachia; and is now hunted for his assumed guilt in the death of Abraham van Helsing. Count Vladislaw Draculiya spares Enoch the fate of drowning or bleeding to death from his wounds; he gently takes the boy’s lifeblood, then assumes the boy’s name to begin his new life in North America.

In New York, Echo van Helsing and her young brother, Matthew, have arrived. Echo is chasing Draculiya, intent on making him pay in kind for the death of her father. They’re joined by Pinkerton operative Kate Warne. Mrs. Warne does her job very well, even if she has to do it disguised as a man. Together, they set out to solve a string of seemingly related homicides that bear a strange similarity to the deaths in England.

In the present, Dr. Carrie Norton works as an urban archaeologist; she makes sure a site is clear of artifacts or skeletons before development begins. The site currently under consideration was a tenement during the Civil War, and his body remains. The black man is wearing a Union naval uniform, so Carrie is hopeful that she’ll be able to identify him fairly quickly. She’s joined by Detective Max Slattery of the Cold Case Squad. This case seems pretty cold. Until bodies start turning up with similar injuries.

The story is presented in alternating chapters, with both stories running in parallel. Far from being confusing, the author uses this technique to great effect. Juxtaposing old New York with present day New York is quite interesting, especially when locations overlap. The story begins with a couple of action sequences that grab the reader’s attention immediately. From there on, the pages practically turn themselves. If you’re a fan of the Dracula legend, you won’t want to miss this one.

Rating: 7 ½
January 2008
ISBN# 978-0-451-22279-4 (paperback)

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

The Serpent's Daughter - Suzanne Arruda

The Serpent’s Daughter
A Jade del Cameron Mystery
Suzanne Arruda


Like many mothers and daughters, Jade del Cameron is having a hard time getting her mother, the aristocratic Inez Maria Isabella de Vincente del Cameron to accept her choice of career. Of course, for a woman in 1920, being a photographer and writer for a travel magazine is hardly the norm. For a woman like Jade, who drove an ambulance in the Great War, traveling the world and writing about it seems almost sedate. The truth, as Jade well knows, is that it’s unlikely that she’ll be able to convince her mother of that. A meeting with her mother in Tangier, Morocco, will, Jade hopes, begin to heal the rift between a mother’s expectations and a daughter’s happiness.

When her mother is late meeting her that afternoon, Jade knows something is wrong. Inez considers tardiness to be a sign of poor character. Jade’s search takes her to the fortress city of Azilah, where her mother was touring with a few others. Jade descends into the tunnels under the city – the main attraction – and discovers, not her mother, but a dead Moroccan man. The man has been stabbed and posed, with one arm pointing dramatically down one tunnel. Following that tunnel, Jade overhears a cryptic conversation before becoming a bit spooked and leaving the tunnels.

Arriving back in Tangier, with Inez nowhere to be found, Jade is about to contact the French police when they contact her. In fact, they’re about to arrest her for stealing the rented car she returned late. Disposing of that matter takes minutes. The far greater concern is that the police are also looking for Inez. Apparently, the dead man from the tunnel has been found in Inez’ rooms. Clearly, he didn’t move himself there. But Jade is having a hard enough time just convincing the police of what she saw in the tunnels. It’s up to her to clear her mother’s name; and then find the woman.

A woman ahead of her time, Jade travels where she likes. When trouble rears its head, she’s intelligent, brave, and resourceful. Last seen in STALKING IVORY, it’s great fun to follow her on her adventures. The author makes great use of detail to set the time and place. Tangier of the 1920s is an exotic locale, and the story is populated with fascinating characters. I wouldn’t miss a single installment of this fine series.

Rating: 8 ½
January 2008
ISBN# 978-0-451-22294-7 (hardcover)

Death Of A Squire - Maureen Ash

Death Of A Squire
A Templar Knight Mystery
Maureen Ash
Berkley Prime Crime


One early morning in the late autumn of 1200 A.D., a group of poachers are hunting deer in the forest around Lincoln castle. After making their illicit kill, one of the poachers leaves the trail and discovers a human body hanging by the neck from a tree. It’s obvious from his fine clothing that he’s from a lord’s household. Although the poachers leave quickly so as not to be hanged for two deaths in one day, the squire’s body is eventually discovered.

Nicolaa de la Haye, castellan of the castle and wife of sheriff Gerard Camville requests the aid of Templar Knight Bascot de Marins in the matter. The squire was attached to the house of William Camville, Gerard’s brother. This is a particularly sticky problem at the moment, since King John and the King of Scotland will be arriving for a meeting at Lincoln Castle shortly. Bascot, despite sustaining terrible injuries as a prisoner of the Saracens in the Holy Land, has proven himself to be most competent in this sort of investigation. And, when his servant, the mute Italian boy Gianni, goes missing, Bascot has a very personal stake in the outcome.

This is the second in this engrossing series, following THE ALEHOUSE MURDERS. It takes place mere months after the first book; so many of the characters make welcome return appearances. Although Bascot seems surprised by his distress at Gianni’s disappearance, anyone who has read the first book will immediately know that he’s quite fond of the boy. The author takes great care to detail the everyday life of the time, but weaves these details through the narrative in a very natural way. The social structure, the class differences, and daily life in a keep are very much a part of the mystery, and readers will feel that they’ve made a trip back through time to witness these events.

Rating: 8
January 2007
ISBN# 978-0-425-21959-1 (paperback)

State Of The Onion - Julie Hyzy

State Of The Onion
White House Chef Mystery
Julie Hyzy
Berkley Prime Crime


Olivia (Ollie) Paras is working in her dream job as White House Assistant Chef. In a couple of weeks, Henry, the Executive Chef will retire, and his successor chosen. Ollie has high hopes for that promotion, but will have to beat out a TV chef for the position. At the moment, though, she’s just re-entering the White House grounds with a farewell gift for Henry – a silver, engraved frying pan – when she sees a man fleeing across the lawn, chased by Secret Service agents. The running man has outdistanced the Secret Service and is headed right at Ollie. Without thinking, she brains him with the frying pan.

To her shock, one of the first Secret Service agents to arrive addresses the man by name, Naveen. Clearly, they know one another, although he denies it later. Naveen claims that he’s trying to warn the President about some danger. But how would Naveen know that the President returned to the White House unexpectedly the previous night? More disturbing, watching the news that night, Ollie realizes that the amateur videotape of the incident from an “undisclosed source” is not the real thing. The Secret Service, including her own boyfriend, tells her to drop it, but Ollie knows that something is wrong. When she sees Naveen murdered days later, she knows she’s right.

This is the first in what promises to be a unique and exciting series. Ollie is a great character. She’s an intelligent woman who is dedicated to her job and the idea of doing the right thing. The White House setting naturally lends itself to all kinds of intrigue, and the cast of characters is potentially vast. The characters we meet in this installment, from the kitchen to the President, are all complex and realistic. There’s plenty of action for fans of mysteries and thrillers. For the foodies, there’s an entire Presidential Menu presented at the end, complete with recipes. STATE OF THE ONION provides an exciting blend of genres, seasoned with a great lead character, and served up in an expert manner, leaving the reader hungry for more.

Rating: 8
January 2008
ISBN# 978-0-425-21869-3 (paperback)

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Darkling - Yasmine Galenorn

The Sisters of the Moon, Book 3
Yasmine Galenorn


Note: If you haven’t read the first two novels in this series, WITCHLING and CHANGELING, this review probably contains spoilers. And you’ve missed some great reading, too.

With the OIA (Otherworld Intelligence Agency) pretty much dismantled, the D’Artigo sisters are left Earthside to take care of themselves. Half-Fae and half-human, Camille is a witch with unreliable powers, Delilah is a werecat (as in, tabby housecat) and Menolly is a relatively recently made vampire. It’s been clear for some months that the dark forces of Otherworld are mobilizing. Humans are aware of the fae, and the weres, and various other supernatural creatures, but cannot understand the very real danger.

The latest incident is a vampire attack in a public theater. Generally, vampires like to keep a low profile. And, this time, the victims weren’t just drained; they were turned. They will rise, alone, wanting nothing but blood, and will think nothing of killing to get it. Signs point in a direction that sickens Menolly. It looks like Dredge, a powerful vampire lord and the vampire who made her after capturing and torturing her, is behind the attacks. For any vampire to gain a power foothold in this world is unacceptable. For that vampire to be the evil and sadistic Dredge is unthinkable.

Readers looking for fluffy bunny pagans, romantic vampires, and cute faeries should look elsewhere. The fae have their dark side, and it’s very evident here. The attack on Menolly happened twelve years ago and still haunts her. That attack is presented from Menolly’s point of view in violent and bloody detail, here. Far from being gratuitous, these scenes allow readers to understand what Menolly went though, and what she struggles with every night of her now-endless life.

The fight against the Dark gains some new recruits here, most notably Roz, an incubus who has his own reasons for hunting Dredge. The action takes place both Earthside and during a trip to Otherworld, and includes appearances by such disparate legendary beings as Morgaine, Mordred, Grandmother Coyote, and Loki. Readers who enjoy the darker side of urban fantasy and the paranormal, as well as those with an abiding interest in legends of all kinds, will enjoy this excellent series. The author continues to up the stakes plot-wise, while still managing to build believable worlds and deepen character development. There’s more to come, and I can’t wait.

Rating: 8 ½
January 2008ISBN# 978-0-425-21893-8 (paperback)

The Crazy School - Cornelia Read

The Crazy School
Cornelia Read
Grand Central Publishing


The Crazy School is the Santangelo Academy, located in the beautiful Berkshires. The place is a school – cum – treatment center for teens, some recently released from psychiatric facilities and violent enough to be placed on drug therapy. David Santangelo runs the school and has developed his own blend of treatment style. The teachers are required to attend twice-weekly sessions with Sookie, an on-site therapist. Like the students, teachers are prohibited from smoking or ingesting caffeine while on the grounds.

Madeline Dare is the new history teacher. The setting is unusual and more than a little uncomfortable; but with her husband, Dean, currently out of work, she needs this job. She manages to connect with some of her students, and feels a real desire to help them, even though she is ill equipped to do so. When two students are found dead as the result of an apparent suicide pact, Madeline isn’t inclined to accept the easy answers. She resolves to look into the truth behind the deaths, and in the process uncovers some buried truths about the Academy and about Dr. Santangelo.

The author does a wonderful job of depicting the atmosphere at the school. With many teachers living on campus, and completely buying into Santangelo’s methods, the place has a distinctly ‘other’ feel. The scenes of Madeline’s home life provide the perfect foil and reality check after spending so much time at the school. When Madeline begins to doubt, there’s a sharp and realistic division between her and the staff members who revere Santangelo.

The narrative seems almost divided in the same way. This may be a deliberate choice; changing from the ‘getting to know you’ lightness of the first half of the book to the ‘exposing secrets’ darkness of the second half. It’s a bit jarring at first, but it works quite well as Madeline moves past the surface appearances of things to get at the rotten heart of the reality of the school.

Rating: 7 ½
January 2008
ISBN# 978-0-446-58259-9 (hardcover)

Thursday, January 24, 2008

The Unnatural Inquirer - Simon R. Green

The Unnatural Inquirer
A Novel of the Nightside
Simon R. Green


For those unfamiliar, the Nightside is a hidden, magical part of London. It’s always night there. And it’s populated by everything you’ve ever heard of, a lot you’ve never heard of, and some thing you wish you hadn’t. John Taylor is a PI there. He uses his gift of Sight to locate things. Sometimes that’s good, and sometimes it’s not.

At the moment, he’s been hired by the Nightside tabloid, The Unnatural Inquirer. The paper’s offices exist in a separate, pocket dimension, behind loads of security. That’s because they print whatever they’ve got. And a lot of very powerful people (and other things) don’t like that at all. Several of their reporters have been disappeared over the years, and the paparazzi are shoot-on-sight.

The paper wants Taylor to find one Pen Donavan, who claims to have recorded a transmission from the Afterlife. Which he then, burned to DVD, of course. The paper made a million-pound deal with Donavan, who vanished before arriving at their offices, apparently taking the DVD with him. So, there’s still a story, but without the DVD, there’s no merchandising to be had. There are plenty of Beings who might want the DVD destroyed. Light or Dark, no one wants the truth (if any) about the Afterlife (if any) getting out to the general populace. Accompanied by a half-succubus, half-rock star (Rolling Stones, if you must know) girl reporter named Bettie Divine, Taylor is off to search, and, most likely irritate, the Nightside.

If you’ve never read a Nightside novel before, you’re in for a treat. This is the most recent novel in a series, and does reference past events, but can be read as a standalone novel. The entire series is immensely entertaining, though, so reading previous novels is hardly a chore. John Taylor is a sort of paranormal/noir/hardboiled detective. He uses sarcastic humor almost as much as he uses his gift. The supporting cast is enormous – sometimes literally – and enormously entertaining. My only complaint is that the novels aren’t longer. It’s been too long since my last visit to the Nightside.

Rating: 8 ½
January 2008
ISBN# 978-0-441-01558-0 (hardcover)

They Did It With Love - Kate Morgenroth

They Did It With Love
Kate Morgenroth


It seems that every city-dweller dreams of living in the peaceful suburbs, where life appears to be so much less complicated. Manhattanites Sofie and her husband nurture the same feelings, and move to upscale Greenwich, CT to live out the dream. It doesn’t take long for Sofie to discover that the pretty suburban neighborhoods mask their own kind of competition. Status depends on your house, its location, and your husband’s occupation. There’s even a sort of cold war going on between book clubs. You can belong to the mommy book club or to the mystery book club, but definitely not to both; you need to choose a side.

Getting into the mystery book club, which meets monthly and is currently reading Miss Marple novels by Agatha Christie, requires an invitation. Once in the club, Sofie meets members Ashley, Susan, Julia, and Priscilla. If anyone in the group seems to be a golden girl, it’s Julia: perfect house, perfect husband, and perfect life. That is, until Julia’s murder stirs up a lot of long-kept secrets. Sofie discovers that even her own husband has secrets. Working to unravel the mystery of Julia’s death, Sofie learns that there’s a whole second world going on under the placid surface of everyday suburban life; and that people will go to almost any lengths for love.

I was worried that this would read like a version of “Desperate Housewives.” Fortunately, it doesn’t. This is a much deeper exploration of how well you really know your neighbor, your friends, or even the person who sleeps next to you every night. That said, the mystery is laid out in a thoroughly entertaining way, forcing Sofie (and the reader) to wade through various versions of the truth, while attempting to determine which version is really accurate. The characters are sharply drawn and complex, never veering into caricature. Uncovering everyone’s secrets is half the fun… as long as you don’t have to live with the results.

Rating: 7 ½
January 2008
ISBN# 978-0-452-26897-3 (trade paperback)

Monday, January 21, 2008

Beginner's Greek - James Collins

Beginner’s Greek
James Collins
Little, Brown and Company

Fiction/ Romantic Comedy

Peter Russell is a young man in his early twenties who works in the corporate finance department of a Wall Street firm. He’s had relationships, but he’s never been in love. On a flight from New York to Los Angeles, he’s seated next to a beautiful young woman named Holly. She reads Thomas Mann (which is good, because The Magic Mountain maybe the one ‘serious’ book that Peter can actually discuss) she teaches math to high school students in the Dominican Republic, and she’s on her way to visit her sister’s new baby. The two make a real connection, and before they part at baggage claim, Holly gives Peter her phone number.

Peter arrives at his hotel, as expected; makes several business calls, as expected; and then realizes that he has lost that crucial piece of paper. This is not how his romantic fantasy of true love was supposed to end.

Cut to several years later. Peter is still working for the firm, as expected; and he’s engaged to Charlotte, a nice woman, as expected. He participates in the wedding plans and gives the correct – expected – responses to each new crisis. He continues his career. But he has never forgotten Holly and that missed opportunity. He can’t help but feel that there should be something more to life than merely doing what’s expected.

Holly is now unavailable to him. She’s married. To his friend, no less. When something happens to his friend, leaving Holly free, Peter remains bound to Charlotte. He’s not the type to dump one perfectly nice woman (Charlotte) even to run off into the sunset with his true love. It’s just not expected of a nice guy.

As time goes on, circumstances change, leaving one free when the other is not. In less careful hands, this could read as a litany of silly coincidences. Here, it reads as a romantic comedy in which we really root for the hero to get the right girl. Peter is the perfect Everyman, letting readers in on his tendency to overthink nearly everything in an effort not to offend; his sojourn though Corporate America and the upper echelons of New York society; and his quest for that ineffable Something More. It’s a testament to the author that readers will like Peter enough to hope that he finds it.

Rating: 8
January 2008
ISBN# 978-0-316-22155-5 (hardcover)

Murder By Numbers - Kaye Morgan

Murder By Numbers
A Sudoku Mystery
Kaye Morgan
Berkley Prime Crime


Note: If you haven’t read the first book in this series, DEATH BY SUDOKU, this review contains some unavoidable plot spoilers.

Liza Kelly, known to newspaper readers as sudoku expert Liza K, never imagined that her tiny hometown of Maiden’s Bay, OR, would be the site of a film production. But there is a movie set in town, complete with stars, town extras, crew, craft services, and all the attendant support staff. Also included are producers, production assistants and a director. That director is currently out of the picture, so to speak, after being sidelined in a one-car accident. Liza, a former pr rep from Los Angeles, is representing the young star of the movie, Jenny. Jenny is the niece of Liza’s late friend, Derrick, and has some real talent.

To complete the shoot, the new owner of the fledgling Mirage Productions, one Oliver Chissel, a former (and possibly current) scam artist, has hired a new director to complete the film. And, to everyone’s shock, Chissel is planning some major script revisions and a whole new direction for the story. He wants to change the film from its original thriller roots to a cheap slasher film that exploits Jenny’s recent kidnapping and near death. Jenny objects, as do others, but Chissel makes it plain that his word is law and that anyone who objects is fired. In so many words.

The changes are not the only reason for Chissel’s visit. Even before the first director’s accident, there had been incidents of vandalism on the set. And the mayor of Maiden’s Bay is less than pleased by the proposed extension of the shooting schedule, since every day the company shoots, the expensive equipment leased to rebuild the pier sits idle. Taking an early morning walk near the site, Liza comes upon Chissel’s head, sticking out of the sand. He was clearly there when the tide came in the previous evening. Plenty of people wanted him dead, and Liza is determined to get to the bottom of things.

This second installment follows the first quite naturally. Past events involving Jenny and her uncle are sketched in neatly, allowing new readers easy access to the storyline. A movie set contains an amazing number of people and motives; Chissel’s background provides additional possibilities. There is a wealth of suspects, and Liza uses her logic and people skills to whittle down that number. There are sudoku puzzles included, with tips and an answer key at the end of the book. If you have no interest in sudoku, you’ll still find an involving mystery here; if you’re a puzzle addict, this series provides an extra layer of entertainment. And just when I’d almost managed to control my puzzle addiction, too.

Rating: 7 ½
January 2008ISBN# 978-0-425-21903-4 (paperback)

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Another One Bites The Dust - Jennifer Rardin

Another One Bites The Dust
A Jaz Parks Novel
Jennifer Rardin

Paranormal/Urban Fantasy

Note: If you haven’t read ONCE BITTEN, TWICE SHY, the first book in the series, this review contains some unavoidable spoilers.

Jaz Parks, fearless vampire hunter, CIA assassin, partnered with a centuries-old vampire. Belly dancer?? She’s been reduced to belly dancing? This can only mean one thing: another undercover assignment, this time at Corpus Christi’s Winter Festival. There will also be a singing vampire, and an investigator who juggles. The real mission? Find and eliminate an unstoppable Chinese vampire who stole a seriously important bit of biotech that could trigger another world war. Just your average day at the office, really.

So, sure, going undercover (as it were) as a belly dancer at a festival is not really what Jaz had in mind when she and Vayl assembled their supernatural investigating unit. But, a girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do; and in this case, as usual, the fate of the world may depend on it. As expected, Jaz’s past does come back to haunt her, making a dicey situation just that much worse.

Many characters from the first novel make a welcome return appearance here, allowing the author to continue developing the interrelationships. There’s no sign of a sophomore slump in this installment, with badder baddies and even more action. The carnival setting allows for a myriad of possibilities and the author takes full advantage. While this can be read as a standalone, with more installments already on the way, new converts will want to pick up the first installment to see how it all started.

Rating: 7 ½
December 2007ISBN# 978-0-316-02057-2 (trade paperback)

Once Bitten, Twice Shy - Jennifer Rardin

Once Bitten, Twice Shy
A Jaz Parks Novel
Jennifer Rardin

Paranormal/Urban Fantasy

Jaz Parks works for the CIA. She’s the assistant to one of their top assassins. And that assassin is Vayl, a centuries-old vampire. The two have worked as a team for just over six months. Jaz is slowly developing her ability to sense the presence of a vampire; apparently an inborn gift.

The two are in Miami on an assignment. Their target is a plastic surgeon who is funneling money to a terrorist organization. But when they arrive, they discover something much, much bigger than a single moneyman. The enemy is far more powerful and deadly than your average extremist. He plans to use black magic and biology to unleash a bioweapon that threatens humanity, and he has the followers to make it happen.

ONCE BITTEN, TWICE SHY is the first in a series that details the adventures of Jaz Parks. She talks tough – and sometimes thinks tough, too – but since she narrates in first person, it’s clear that there’s more going on under the surface. It’s also clear that there’s some major event in her not-too-recent past that will be revealed in a future volume, along with more of Vayl’s history. This is a great combination of the kind of action that made “Alias” so much fun, and the paranormal. Vampire fans should be warned that the vampires here are depicted as brutal killers, which is fairly refreshing in this genre. Fast-paced and fun; I’m glad there are already more installments available.

Rating: 7 ½
October 2007
ISBN# 978-0-316-02046-6 (trade paperback)

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Murder in Gotham - Isidore Haiblum

Murder in Gotham
A Weiss & Weiss Mystery
Isidore Haiblum
Berkley Prime Crime


Morris Weiss is a well-known private detective in his part of the city. He’s Jewish and speaks Yiddish, which makes him much more trustworthy than the mostly-Irish police force. He knows the people and he knows the customs. So, when Jake Lefkowitz disappears, his friends call Morris instead of the police. As a matter of fact, Jake’s wife, May, didn’t call anyone for nearly two weeks after the disappearance.

It doesn’t take Weiss long to find out that Jake was a gambler, and in debt. He visits a bookie operation fronted by a candy store (the better to disguise the purpose of the boys employed as runners) and a gambling club located over a bakery. One of the men to whom Jake owed money, Bernie Loft, is also missing. Quite a coincidence. And, it turns out that Jake might have more than one reason for running; that reason being blonde and leggy. A visit to Loft’s apartment turns up Loft’s dead body. Things just got a lot more serious.

MURDER IN GOTHAM is a wonderful throwback to the hardboiled, noir detective stories of the 1930s. Told in spare prose, it perfectly evokes the age of fedoras and tough guys. Weiss’ command of Yiddish opens doors for him, and his prior successes make him a sort of local celebrity. His observations on his work are detailed at the start of each chapter through excerpts from his “casebook” and should not be overlooked. This one will please fans of the genre and gain new converts.

Rating: 7 1/2
January 2008
ISBN# 978-0-425-21907-2 (paperback)

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Bring Your Own Poison - Jimmie Ruth Evans

Bring Your Own Poison
A Trailer Park Mystery
Jimmie Ruth Evans
Berkley Prime Crime


Working a bachelor party at the Kountry Kitchen is not exactly Wanda Nell Culpepper’s idea of a fun evening, but the struggling single mom can’t afford to turn down the tips. As expected, a little liquor and a few toasts to the groom-to-be are all it takes to get the crude remarks flowing. Surprisingly, though, some of the most crude come from the groom himself, Travis Blakely. His younger brother Gerald takes exception to the remarks and takes a swing at his older brother, but is quickly subdued. Travis makes another explicit toast, gulps down a drink, and immediately falls to the floor, dead.

Although he was a cop, Travis had a questionable reputation. He’d already been married twice before, and widowed both times under very suspicious circumstances. His first wife died in an arson fire; his second wife was run off the road after a second arson failed to kill her. Nothing was ever proved, but Wanda Nell is pretty sure that where there’s that much smoke, there’s most likely fire. So to speak.

Last seen in BEST SERVED COLD and MURDER OVER EASY, Wanda Nell is a very realistic and likeable character. Life has handed her some pretty hard knocks, but she’s managed to pull herself up and do right by herself and her children. It’s a lot of work, but it’s obviously worth it. As with each installment, the main characters, including Wanda Nell’s family members, grow and evolve in very real ways. While the mystery sometimes takes a bit of a backseat to the family dynamics, the author makes it work, since, really, family is the center of Wanda Nell’s life.

Rating: 7
January 2008ISBN# 978-0-425-21905-8 (paperback)

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Iron Kissed - Patricia Briggs

Iron Kissed
A Mercy Thompson Novel
Patricia Briggs

Urban Fantasy/ Paranormal

Note: This is the third in a series, following MOON CALLED and BLOOD BOUND. If you haven’t read the first two books (and I highly recommend them) this review may contain spoilers.

Mercedes (Mercy) Thompson is a VW mechanic with a complicated past. She’s a walker; meaning that she can change into her coyote form at will. Raised as a sort of stray by a werewolf pack, Mercy has always known about the fae. But most of the world learned about them only a few years ago when they decided to announce themselves to the world. Of course, the fae pretty much invented the art of the spin, so they’ve managed to convince most of the human population that they’re all cute and harmless. The werewolves came out much more recently, and are having a bit of trouble with their spin. Revealing that the movies got it mostly wrong and that many wolves are heroes (cops, soldiers, firefighters) has helped a lot.

Mercy’s mentor, Zee, is some sort of fae, and very old. The truth is that Mercy doesn’t know exactly what he is, but he’s unquestionably her friend. So, when he asks her to accompany him to the local fae reservation, where many of the fae choose to live away from prying human eyes, she agrees. On the rez, the fae police their own, and Mercy is suitably surprised to find that what Zee really wants is for her to use her coyote to check out several homes that were murder scenes. Mercy’s coyote self will be able to identify the scents of the people who have been in each home, and, Zee hopes, identify the murderer.

During her tour of the murder scenes, Mercy accidentally discovers some of the fae’s secrets. Perhaps the real reason the fae agreed to live behind reservation walls in the first place. But that quickly becomes a secondary concern when one of the reservation guards – a human – is found in his home, decapitated. Zee is almost immediately accused and arrested. It’s obvious that no tool was used, so whatever being committed this murder must have been incredibly strong. Sneaking into the guard’s home in hopes of picking up a familiar scent, Mercy discovers that the guard was part of an anti-fae hate group. Now, proving that Zee is innocent of the crime takes precedence over everything else, despite the fact that Zee is apparently quite willing to take the fall.

IRON KISSED is another great installment in an outstanding urban fantasy series. The only quibble I have, and this is purely personal preference, is the amount of time devoted to the Adam-or-Samuel question. When this triangle is resolved, it’s done so quickly that it seems a lot of the build-up could have been cut in favor of more time devoted to the main plot. The characters from previous books are more fully developed here, and there are some great action sequences. The new characters and background issues keep things interesting.

The world building is rock-solid and continues to expand here, this time to include various aspects of the fae. Readers who have been with the series from the start will appreciate the constant growth of the characters and their backgrounds. Readers who start here will have no problems jumping in at this point, and will no doubt want to read the first two installments, as well. Mercy is a great character; someone who has had to make her own way and live on her own terms, but who is willing to put herself on the line for those she loves. Highly recommended.

Rating: 8
January 2008ISBN# 978-0-441-01566-5 (paperback)