Disclaimer: I received a free review copy of this book as part of the Harper Voyager Super Reader program.
“People created chaos, not places, and they were damned good at it no matter where they lived. And when this glittering gem of a city teamed up with the world’s oldest profession, fantasy piled atop fantasy, it could convince just about anyone that impulse was a virtue, not a vice.”
Journalist Kit Craig and her photographer partner, Nicole Rockwell, are investigating a prostitution ring in their hometown of Las Vegas, when Nicole is murdered during an undercover meeting with a potential source. Griffin Shaw, one time private investigator, has been dead for fifty years, but unable to overcome the trauma of his death and pass over to Paradise, he serves as a Centurion angel, charged with collecting other souls who have met a violent end. It is he who is sent to retrieve the soul of Nicole Rockwell, but when he does Nicole one last favour before she passes over, he doesn’t realize that his actions will change fate, leading Kit to her death in pursuit of her partner’s murderer. Charged by a higher power with cleaning up his mess by collecting Kit’s soul, Grif is cast back onto the mortal plane. But instead of following orders, Grif breaks rank, and protects Kit, even as he enlists her help in figuring out a mystery that has been haunting him for fifty years: who killed Griffin Shaw?
Grif died in the fifties, but Kit is still living them as a rockabilly. She dresses in vintage clothes, hunts down antique décor for her house, and drives a classic car. While the persecution Kit faced for her interest in rockabilly seemed overstressed, it does create an interesting dynamic between her and Grif. Since Grif actually lived (and was murdered) in the fifties, Kit’s idealization of that period strikes a nerve with him, at the same time that her fifties décor makes him feel right at home, epitomizing the way Kit puts him off balance. Rockabilly also helps Grif pass in Vegas, even though he still looks and dresses exactly as he did when he died.
Despite the interesting and complicated dynamic between Kit and Grif, I didn’t feel any investment in the development of their romance. I was more interested in watching them try to mesh their different investigative styles, than in seeing them get together. Unfortunately for me, the romance was fairly central, and it was into the last hundred pages of the book before the mystery plot really picked up steam. The turning point comes at a confrontation between Grif and a Pure—a higher angel that was never human—over his refusal to let Kit die. From that point on, I was hooked, but it was slow reading prior to that. Unfortunately, while this explosive ending wraps up Nicole’s murder and the investigation into the prostitution ring, it leaves the question of Grif’s murder still hanging.
Although the rockabilly aspect of the story was overstressed, and the plot was a bit slow to get going, there were some elements that worked quite well. The Taken conveys a great sense of place, depicting Las Vegas as it might seem to the locals, past and present, rather than skimming the familiar, touristy veneer of the city. I also loved Vicki Pettersson’s writing style, which combined a surprisingly workable mix of hard-boiled narrative, and more lyrical prose. I would be interested in checking out Pettersson’s other work, but for this particular series, it is a lot to ask the writing to carry a slow plot and unengaging romance for three quarters of the book, and expect readers to keep going.
You might also like The Dirty Streets of Heaven by Tad Williams.