Category: Mystery

Jackaby

Cover image of Jackaby by William Ritterby William Ritter

ISBN 978-1-61620-353-5

“Monsters are easy, Miss Rook. They’re monsters. But a monster in a suit? That’s basically just a wicked man, and a wicked man is a more dangerous thing by far.”

Boarding school runaway Abigail Rook steps off the Lady Charlotte onto the docks of New Fiddleham with one suitcase to her name, and no job prospects to speak of. In the New England of 1892, there is not much in the way of respectable employment for unaccompanied seventeen-year-old girls. Fortunately for Abigail, there is nothing respectable about R.F. Jackaby, private investigator of supernatural crimes. When Abigail answers his advertisement for an assistant, she finds herself pulled into the investigation of a series of grisly murders. Though the police steadfastly insist on a mundane explanation, Jackaby suspects something more unusual is afoot, but his lack of official standing hampers the investigation.  Given Jackaby’s preternatural preoccupations, Abigail’s grounded perspective and eye for detail prove invaluable as they attempt to track the killer with the surreptitious assistance of Junior Detective Charlie Cane.

In the fall of 2014, Jackaby garnered a lot of buzz thanks to publicists characterizing this title as “Doctor Who meets Sherlock,” a bold claim that appears right on the cover flap of the book. In the Doctor Who meets Sherlock schema, Abigail is simultaneously the Doctor’s companion, and Sherlock’s Watson, creating a written record of her first case with Jackaby. Jackaby certainly has the Doctor’s frenzied energy, and Sherlock’s lack of interest in social graces. He even has a signature chapeau, though his lumpy woolen toque is decidedly less dashing than a deer stalker. Of course, William Ritter didn’t set out to write Wholock, though the story does slyly acknowledge its debt to Arthur Conan Doyle when Abigail asks “you’re like whatshisname, aren’t you?” when Jackaby attempts to deduce where she came from. Despite the aptness of the publicist’s comparison, Jackaby ultimately has to stand on its own after name-checking two big series that are bound to set high expectations among fans.

Jackaby is set in the late nineteenth century, but the historical setting is less than fully realized, mostly providing a largely inconsequential backdrop. The period setting is actually most relevant in terms of the development of Abigail’s character, since she has run away from school and the expectations foisted in her by her gender. Despite a clear intent towards a feminist bent with Abigail’s independent character, Jackaby falls into one of the same traps that frequently ensnares Doctor Who. Any time Abigail is alone with either of the two significant female supporting characters—Jenny and Hatun—it is almost certainly to discuss Jackaby. As in Doctor Who, this makes for a good device for exposing the character of the mysterious Jackaby, but leaves much to be desired in terms of the development of relationships between, and characterization of, female characters.

Fast-paced and plot-driven, Jackaby feels very much like a pilot episode in that the focus is on setting up the conceit and then following the case-of-the-week. The characters have only barely begun to develop, and there is much we still don’t know about them. The mystery isn’t overly difficult, but Jackaby’s charm and witty banter are quite capable of carrying the story along between times. And although the historical setting plays little role, Jackaby’s extraordinary house at 926 Augur Lane has all the character and detail that New Fiddleham lacks. Fortunately, Jackaby is intended to begin a series rather than stand alone, and volume two, Beastly Bones, is scheduled for publication in the fall of 2015.

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Killer Instinct (Naturals #2)

Cover image for Killer Instinct by Jennifer Lynn Barnesby Jennifer Lynn Barnes

ISBN 978-142316832-4

“If my instincts are so good, I wondered, then why didn’t I see this coming?”

Thanks to her natural talent as profiler, Cassie Hobbes has earned a spot in a secret FBI program that prepares gifted teens to enter the service. The Naturals are only supposed to work on cold cases, but they find themselves pulled into an active case yet again when a copycat killer starts mimicking murders committed by Dean’s psychopathic father. There’s a good chance the killer has been in contact with Daniel Redding, but there’s only one person Daniel will talk to. Just when Cassie thought she was making progress at getting Dean to let her in, revisiting his father’s murders causes him to push her away once more. At the same time, the Naturals program comes under scrutiny from above, when Director Sterling sends his daughter, Agent Veronica Sterling, to fill the space left by Agent Locke’s departure.

Jennifer Lynne Barnes again uses the device of new kills mimicking a cold case to pull the Naturals into the fray, getting around the prohibition on working active cases. This time, it is Dean’s past that is excavated as we learn about his father’s possessive behaviour, and his efforts to turn Dean into his protégé. The novel is a lot like a serial procedural drama, in that you could easily pick up the series from Killer Instinct, without reading The Naturals, but it is always better to know the backstory. And since there’s no avoiding mentioning whodunit in book one, it’s probably best not to read out of order. Even though the characters have special talents and insights, the mystery is fast-paced and suspenseful. Barnes conforms to the conventions of the genre, while also keeping you guessing. Interspersed with Cassie’s narrations are the eerie second-person “YOU” sections that take the reader inside the mind of the killer, offering tantalizing clues.

The hook of the Naturals series lies in combining the teenage sleuth with crime drama, and seeing what happens next. The Naturals program consists of damaged kids with secrets and hang ups and the group dynamic is complicated, both by their romantic entanglements and their ability to read one another. Cassie remains torn between Michael and Dean, while Lia is still running interference between them. Cassie and Lia’s relationship could use some development that goes beyond Lia’s sisterly protectiveness of Dean and jealous behaviour regarding Michael. Sloane is a bit of an outsider in all of this, as usual. But despite the conflicts, the group is further bonded together by their mutual dislike of Agent Sterling, and their desire to keep Dean from being hurt by being in contact with his father once again.

The title and cover for Naturals #3 are still under wraps, but Barnes has revealed that book three—due out November 2015—will be set in Las Vegas, and delve into the backgrounds of two more of the Naturals. Since Las Vegas is Sloane’s hometown, hopefully her backstory is due to be revealed. As much as I love Sloane’s social awkwardness and preoccupation with statistics, I wanted to see more from her character. We did get a flash, when her feelings were hurt because Cassie left her out of a plan. Hopefully, with Naturals #3 set in Sloane’s hometown, her backstory will finally round out an already interesting character. If you enjoyed book one, Killer Instinct delivers more of the same.

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Check out Book One:

Cover image for The Naturals by Jennifer Lynn BarnesThe Naturals by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

Top 5 Fiction Reads of 2014

These are my favourite fiction books read or reviewed (not necessarily published) in 2014. Click the title for links to the full reviews. Check back on Friday for my top non-fiction reads of the year.

All I Love and Know 

ISBN 9780062302878

Cover image for All I Love and Know by Judith FrankDaniel and his partner Matt live a peaceful life in Northampton, Massachusetts. Their quiet existence is torn apart when Daniel’s twin brother Joel, and his wife, Ilana, are killed by a suicide bomber in a Jersalem cafe, leaving behind two young children. Both Joel’s parents and Ilana’s assume they will raise Gal and Noam, but neither set of grandparents knows about the promise Daniel made Joel and Ilana on his last visit to Israel.  Author Judith Frank lived in Israel for several years as a teenager, and her own twin sister still lives their with her husband. All I Love and Know is a complex and challenging novel that deals with not one but two important contemporary issues–gay parenting and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict–wrapped in a love story about a couple struggling to find their way back to one another after a devastating loss.

Categories: LGBT

A Thousand Pieces of You

ISBN 9780062278968

Cover image for A Thousand Pieces of You by Claudia GrayMarguerite is an artist, but she is the daughter of two brilliant scientists, inventors of the Firebird, a groundbreaking device that enables inter-dimensional travel. When one of her parents’ graduate assistants murders her father and escapes by stealing a Firebird and jumping into another dimension, Marguerite teams up with another graduate student, and gives chase. Her mission: KILL PAUL MARKOV. With a twist on the idea of multiple universes, Claudia Gray invents a device that projects the consciousness of the user into the body of their alternate selves in other dimensions. While this eliminates the usual trope of accidentally encountering other selves, it creates its own set of moral and ethical quandaries when characters hijack the lives and choices of their counterparts. As Marguerite pursues her father’s killer through multiple dimensions, Gray has a forum to show off her talent with multiple genres, from science fiction, to contemporary, to historical in this fast-paced adventure.

Categories: Young Adult, Science Fiction

I’ll Give You the Sun

ISBN 9780803734968

Cover image for I'll Give You the Sun by Jandy NelsonThirteen-year-old Jude and Noah are twins, but also polar opposites. Jude is popular, outgoing and adventurous, where Noah is shy, introverted, and deeply weird . He is also in the closet. But despite their differences they are like two halves of the same person, both smart and creative. Three years later, the twins are unrecognizable. Noah is normal and socially competent, and Jude has withdrawn into herself, dressing in baggy clothes and shunning social interaction. They are also barely speaking to one another. Told in alternating perspectives, Jude and Noah relate how their family and their bond broke, and the secrets they are keeping from one another that prevent them from repairing their relationship. Poet Jandy Nelson has a beautiful way with words that translates into fluid prose and striking imagery. I’ll Give You the Sun is a dazzling, exuberant work of fiction full of art and passion, jealousy and loss.

Categories: Young Adult, LGBT

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore

ISBN 9781250037756

Cover image for Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin SloanWhen the recession shuts down his San Francisco start-up, Clay Jannon finds himself working the night shift at a peculiar 24-hour bookstore. Not only are customers few and far between on the night shift, but they come in not to buy books, but to borrow them, from a special collection Clay is forbidden to read, but must carefully track in a log book. When Clay tries to digitize the process, he  accidentally cracks a centuries old code with his computer and a sense of humour. With the help of a couple of techie friends, Clay turns the power of the digital age on the mystery behind the secret code hoping to succeed where others have failed. Mr Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore is  humourous mystery with something for both book-lovers and tech geeks alike. Robin Sloan has written a novel that both embodies the anxieties of the digital age, and shows digital and manual technologies working alongside one another.

Categories: Mystery, Humour

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown

ISBN 9780316213103

Cover image for The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly BlackA raging epidemic of vampirism has swept across the world like wildfire, contained only by the invention of Coldtowns, government-run ghettos that are home to vampires and infected humans alike. Anyone can go into a Coldtown, but it is almost impossible to get back out. Inside Coldtowns, the most powerful vampires are internet reality stars, streaming a facade of decadence to the world that draws in human acolytes and misfits. The reality is much darker, as Tana finds out for herself when she and her ex-boyfriend, Aidan, are potentially infected at a party, and she turns them both in. Holly Black tackles the vampire novel with dark humour and a willingness to skewer tropes at every turn, while also acknowledging her debt to her forerunners. The Coldest Girl in Coldtown is both a reimagining of the vampire novel, and a tribute to the classics of the genre.

Categories: Young Adult, Fantasy

That’s it for me! What were your favourite fiction reads of 2014?

The Scent of Death

Cover image for The Scent of Death by Andrew Taylorby Andrew Taylor

ISBN 978-0-007213511

Disclaimer: I received a free review copy of this book at ALA Annual 2014. All quotes are based on an uncorrected text.

“The point is, sir, however loyal an American may be, he is not a Englishman any more. He is become quite a different animal.”

Mr. Edward Savill of the British government’s American Department arrives in New York in the summer of 1778, in the midst of the American Revolution. New York is held by the British, and Mr. Savill is charged with documenting the claims of Loyalists who have been turned out of their homes by American rebels. Manhattan is under military rule, and overflowing with refugees from the war, obliging Mr. Savill to billet with the Wintour family, including Judge Wintour, his wife, and their daughter-in-law, Mrs. Arabella. Immediately upon his arrival, Mr. Savill is drawn into the investigation of the murder of Mr. Roger Pickett, an American of questionable loyalties whose body is found in the slums of Canvas Town. What at first seems a simple case of robbery comes back to haunt Mr. Savill’s tenure in New York when Mr. Pickett’s influential brother-in-law demands that the investigation be reopened.

Veteran mystery writer Andrew Taylor first published The Scent of Death in Britain in 2013. The historical thriller earned Taylor his third Crime Writer’s Association Ellis Peters Historical Award, and is now being published in the United States by Harper Collins. Taylor has a beautiful command of the language and culture of the period, and a rich knowledge of history that brings Revolutionary-era New York to life in vivid detail, although his British perspective will undoubtedly feel alien to many American readers, who will be seeing the War of Independence from the other side.

If you don’t enjoy gathering up clues or basking in period detail, the first two hundred pages of The Scent of Death are rather tedious. Taylor abides by the rules of fair play, so those who like puzzling out whodunit before the protagonist will find plenty to keep them thinking and theorizing. However it takes a great deal of patience to get through the opening acts, in part because Mr. Savill is not a particularly good or eager detective. He is reluctant to get involved in affairs beyond the scope of his post, and concerned by Mr. Pickett’s connection, however slight, to the Wintour family, whose members he has become attached to during his stay. If you are good at solving murder mysteries, you may be impatient for Mr. Savill to catch up to you.

In addition to a slow start, The Scent of Death is hard going at first due to Taylor’s stereotypical characterizations. His Englishmen come across as stuffy, pretentious, insufferable bores, and his Americans seem to be uncultured, racist boors. On meeting Mrs. Arabella Wintour, a noted American beauty, Mr, Savill has the ungenerous thought that the Americans “perhaps judged a lady’s personal attractions by lower standards than we did.” These kinds of priggish judgements make Mr. Savill unpleasant company. What is interesting about this characterization is the way Taylor is able to use it to illicit the sympathies of the modern reader; we are brought to like Mr. Savill in spite of his priggishness because he treats the black characters and slaves much better than his American counterparts. His sympathy for the runaway slave Virgil isn’t much, and it doesn’t save the slave from hanging, but it is difficult not to like Mr. Savill when he prevents a man from selling his wife’s maid to pay a gambling debt. He may be a reluctant hero, but he eventually finds his feet. Similarly, despite their racism, we are drawn to the American characters precisely because they are so much more friendly and accessible than the English ones. Ultimately, Taylor seems to be playing with the stereotypes rather than leaning on them, and using the contradictions to confound our ability to judge characters and assess their guilt.

The plot arc of The Scent of Death deals in extremes, starting with a ponderous introduction, and coming to a frenetic and luridly sensational ending in the last seventy pages. The satisfaction of piecing together the many clues is somewhat diminished by the melodramatic final reveal, which has none of the delicate balance Taylor pulls off in playing the British and American interests against one another. The Scarface plot comes neatly together, but Taylor’s need to add one final twist puts the ending a little over the top. The Scent of Death has Taylor’s strong command of the language and vivid historical setting to recommend it, but the slow pacing and unsatisfactory conclusion weigh heavily against those considerations.

We Were Liars

Cover image for We Were Liars by E. Lockhartby E. Lockhart

ISBN 978-0-385-74126-2

Warning: We Were Liars is the sort of book that is best read without knowing much about it. While I will do my best to discuss it with a minimum of spoilers, any extra knowledge of the book may diminish your enjoyment of reading it. That said, I don’t particularly recommend it. Read on if you want to find out why.

“Part of me doesn’t want to ruin it. Doesn’t want to even imagine that it isn’t perfect.”

Patriarch Harris Sinclair and his wife Tipper have three daughters, Carrie, Penny, and Bess. They spend every summer on their private island, Beechwood, at Clairmont House. The girls marry and build their own houses on Beechwood, where they return every summer with their own children. The Sinclairs are “old-money Democrats,” proudly flaunting their storied heritage, including the clichéd journey to America on the Mayflower. But beneath the perfect exterior, there are cracks, as the Sinclair daughters’ marriages dissolve one after another. Cadence Sinclair Eastman, called Cady, is the eldest Sinclair grandchild, and her parents split up just before her fifteenth summer on Beechwood. On the island, she can run free with her cousins Mirren and Johnny, and Gat, who is the nephew of her Aunt Carrie’s boyfriend, Ed. She can forget about her parents’ divorce, even as she has to cope with tension between her aunts, and try to live up to her grandparents’ expectations. But something terrible happens during summer fifteen, leading to an accident that Cady can’t remember. When she finally returns to Beechwood for summer seventeen, no one will tell her what happened, but the island itself may be the key to unlocking her memories.

We Were Liars gets off to a slow start, spending the first three quarters of the book familiarizing us with the Sinclair family. Most of the Sinclairs are not particularly likeable, but nor are they monsters. They are simply insufferable one-percenters, oblivious to the problems of the real world. E. Lockhart does an excellent job of evoking the subtle tension between family members, the quiet rivalries, and the pressure of high expectations. Fortunately, it is a relatively short book, and thus can get away with not really bringing the mystery to the fore until the last fifty pages. However, even the short length doesn’t make it easy to stick with Cady, who uses inelegant word play and hacked together metaphors, and likes to turn her run-on sentences into bad poetry by adding line breaks.

This book tells you right up front that it is unpredictable and untrustworthy, so it should come as no surprise that there is not one, but a series of twists as Cady struggles to recover her memory of what happened at Beechwood during summer fifteen. The final twist was, unfortunately, one of my least favourite twist ending tropes of all time (spoiler for the trope at that link). While the preceding twists rocked my perception of the entire book in a very shocking and satisfying way, the final reveal was so cliché that I almost regretted reading the book at all. I would only recommend this title for fans of M. Night Shyamalan-style twist endings.

The Silkworm (Cormoran Strike #2)

Cover image for The Silkworm by J.K. Rowling writing as Robert Galbraithby J.K. Rowling writing as Robert Galbraith

ISBN 978-0-316-20687-7

“As he headed down Store Street, squinting through the downpour and concentrating on maintaining his footing on the slippery pavements, he reflected that his palate was in danger of becoming jaded by the endless variations on cupidity and vengefulness that his wealthy clients kept bringing him. It had been a long time since he investigated a missing-person case. There would be satisfaction in restoring the runaway Quine to his family.”

Cormoran Strike has been working long hours on tawdry divorce cases, labouring to pay off the debt that enabled him to start his private investigation business. Despite the need to keep his eye on the bottom line, Strike feels compelled to help the wife of a missing author, even though she cannot pay his fees. The author, Owen Quine, is known to be flighty, with history of running off to escape his family obligations, or to pout when he doesn’t get his way. His agents and editors seem to believe Quine has disappeared in an effort to drum up publicity for his controversial new novel, but as Strike investigates, he begins to suspect something more complicated is going on. It seems that Bombyx Mori, Quine’s latest manuscript, is not just controversial, but possibly libelous, containing scandalous poison-pen portraits of almost everyone in his life, providing ample motive for foul play. Strike’s assistant, Robin Ellacott, longs to help Strike crack the case, but her work with the private investigator continues to spark tension with her fiancé, Matthew.

Thus far the plots of the Strike novels have been tied up in worlds J.K. Rowling has come to know well since the success of Harry Potter. In The Cuckoo’s Calling, Strike investigated the supposed suicide of super model Lula Landry, who was being stalked and harassed by the paparazzi. In The Silkworm, Rowling turns to the behind-the-scenes intrigues of the publishing world, where the cut-throat nature of the business is embodied by epigraphs from grisly Jacobean revenge tragedies. Celebrity continues to be an important theme, in this case the celebrity of an author, but Strike’s famous father, rock star Jonny Rokeby, is also never far from Strike’s mind. Nor is his former fiancée, Charlotte, who is constantly in the society pages as her marriage to a Scottish aristocrat draws closer. Even Strike himself has gained a measure of notoriety, both as Rokeby’s illegitimate son, and as the investigator who cracked the Lula Landry case. Rowling has turned her experience with fame into excellent fodder for a crime novel not once, but twice.

One of the highlights of The Cuckoo’s Calling was the partnership between Strike and his accidental secretary, Robin, and Rowling further develops this in The Silkworm. Although Strike continues to find Robin attractive, if off-limits, the book focuses more on their professional relationship by delving into Robin’s secret desire to become a private investigator, and her worry that Strike sees her as merely a secretary. Her professional ambitions continue to cause problems with Matthew, but Rowling is more focused on how this impacts Robin’s work. Their arguments are often recounted in retrospect rather than shown on page (“the row escalated with alarming speed…”) so that is the dynamic between Strike and Robin that takes centre stage, with Matthew’s resentment as a complicating factor. While the mystery is intriguing, it is the character development, and further hints at their backstories that really make up the meat of the book.

Whereas I had mixed feelings about Rowling’s first post-Potter novel, The Casual Vacancy, the Strike novels are a much more promising encore. In The Silkworm, she plays her cards infuriatingly close to the vest, while still abiding by the rules of fair play, making for a mystery that is highly recommended for those who always figure out who-dunnit.

Midnight Crossroad

Cover image for Midnight Crossroad by Charlaine Harris by Charlaine Harris

ISBN 9780425263150

“The really inquisitive ones always go to Midnight Pawn. It’s an old building, the oldest building in town. In fact, it was there before the town grew up around it, before there were two roads to intersect.”

Midnight, Texas is a tiny, one stop light town at the crossroads of the Davy Highway and Witch Light Road. Everyone in Midnight has a secret and a past, from Bobo, the owner of a slightly unusual pawnshop that’s open at night, to Fiji, the only witch for miles around, to Manfred, the internet and telephone psychic who has just moved to town. Everyone is friendly to the newcomer, but there seems to be some sort of unspoken code amongst the Midnighters, who are tight knit but ask no personal questions. When Bobo’s girlfriend, Audrey, turns up dead after everyone thought she’d left him, the town finds itself at the center of a murder investigation that threatens to stir up the reclusive residents’ secrets.

Midnight Crossroad gets off to a slow start, introducing the town of Midnight and its unusual residents. Charlaine Harris still seems to be finding her feet juggling multiple third person perspectives. It is about a third of the way into the book before the mystery is really afoot, and things pick up a bit from there. Harris ties this story into her larger universe, populating Midnight with familiar faces, including Bobo Winthrop the Lily Bard mysteries, Arthur Smith from the Aurora Teagarden books, and Manfred Bernardo from the Harper Connelly series. Harper Connelly herself was reportedly going to play a role in Midnight Crossroad but didn’t make it into the final draft. Speaking at University Bookstore Seattle on May 8, Harris seemed surprised that this tidbit was public knowledge, but admitted that Harper was going to help move along the detection aspect of the story before she was cut for taking over too much of the book. Harris also shared that a character from the Sookie Stackhouse books will be appearing in volume two.

Midnight Crossroad was a solid mystery, but the setting didn’t have a chance to live up to its potential in this volume even though a lot of attention was lavished on it. Although the idea for the Midnight books started with the unusual pawn shop—the original title was Midnight Pawn, but  Harris’s southern drawl made pawn sounded a little too much like “Midnight Porn” to her British publisher—the more unusual customers and artifacts in the pawn shop don’t play any significant role. Nor, to my disappointment, was crossroad the site of any devilish dealings. Despite the many supernatural residents of Midnight, the events of this book are decidedly mundane. However, Harris has set a lot of promising groundwork, with a diverse and mysterious cast of characters and her signature southern setting. Book two in the planned trilogy—which may go on longer if Harris feels she has more to tell—is due out this time next year.

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The Taken (Celestial Blues #1)

Cover image for The Taken by Vicki Pettersson by Vicki Pettersson

ISBN 978-0-06-206464-6

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.

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