Archive for category Private Investigators

Ghosts & Echoes, by Lyn Benedict (Ace, 2010)

Sylvie Lightner is a private investigator who specializes in the supernatural, the weird, and the dangerous. Her last job was a real killer, and it’s taken her a month to recover and get her head back in the game. Unfortunately, that month is nowhere near enough, since she’s still haunted by the death of her occasional lover, Michael Demalion, and reluctant to tackle anything involving “life-and-death struggles.” However, she may not have a choice. First, she’s saddled with temporary supervision of her rebellious sister Zoe. Second, she takes a case involving some unusual robberies at a local mall. Third, she meets a Chicago cop who’s been possessed by a very familiar ghost, undoubtedly more fallout from the near-apocalyptic adventure Sylvie had the month before.

Now Sylvie’s up to her eyeballs in trouble, with necromancers and Hands of Glory popping up around every corner, a ghost putting the moves on her, a sister who’s been up to questionable hijinks with her friends, and an entire clan of local cops pressuring her for explanations and results. If Sylvie doesn’t put together the pieces of this puzzle, the dead will walk again, but at a terrible cost.

So far, two books in, this is proving to be a really fun, interesting series. Sylvie’s a tough, no-nonsense protagonist whose sense of responsibility and duty may occasionally lead her awry, but more often than not she’s out there kicking ass and doing her best to protect those she cares about. Her attitude is refreshingly direct, but not over-the-top enough to turn her into a cliched bad girl/action heroine. The world she lives in is, as might be expected, chock-full of the magical, mysterious, and menacing, but Lyn Benedict still finds new things to focus on. Ghosts & Echoes wraps itself around several plot threads, which come together in surprisingly subtle ways; it wasn’t until I was a third of the way in that I realized where the story was going, and then everything took on a new perspective. Honestly, I’ve never seen such an interesting, twisted take on the whole concept of the Hand of Glory (traditionally, the specially-preserved hand of a dead murderer, capable of opening locks and other nasty tricks.).
In a field that’s ever more crowded by private investigators dealing with the unknown, this series has found its corner and is doing quite well at maintaining its sense of uniqueness. Definitely one of the better series out there, and this book quite adeptly maintains the quality I saw in the first one.

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The Good, The Bad, And The Uncanny, by Simon R. Green (Ace, 2010)

Things never slow down in the Nightside, the secret black heart of London where it’s always the darkest part of the night and the shadows have teeth. And as always, where there’s trouble, there’s John Taylor, private detective and all-around go-to guy when things get weird. His latest job’s unusual, even by his standards: escort the elf known as Lord Screech across the Nightside, and keep him safe against all of the many, many nasty people and things that will undoubtedly come out of the woodwork for a chance at killing an elf.

Providing transportation for this little outing is Ms. Fate, the Nightside’s very own transvestite superheroine. Survive that, and there’s the issue of the three Oblivion brothers, one of whom went missing sometime back, but who desperately needs finding again. Survive that, and John gets to deal with something really upsetting. It seems Walker, Voice of the Authorities that run Nightside, is dying, and he’s looking for a replacement. Who better than John Taylor himself, the one man the entire Nightside knows, fears, and occasionally hates? Problem is, John doesn’t want the job, so Walker’s ready to try the hard sell on him….

The tenth book in the popular Nightside series continues to expand upon a mythos spanning dozens of books and several different series at this point. Not only do we get treated to some more of the Nightside’s strangest, deadliest secrets, including the source of Walker’s terrifying seeming-omniscience, but we meet the third and most dangerous of the Oblivion brothers, who only shows up when reality itself is threatened. We also get some explanation regarding the recent change of leadership involving the Fae, which has also affected Simon R. Green’s Secret History series, and which ties back into an earlier work, Shadows Fall.

Part tour of the Nightside, part farewell to several long-running characters, part Devil’s last temptation for John Taylor, there’s a definite sense of progress and winding down with this book, as though Green’s tidying up the board in preparation for the last few books of the series. It’s chock-full of the usual mad ideas, bizarre concepts, weird moments and characters-writ-large that Green specializes in. Though thoroughly entertaining, it’s more of a payoff for existing fans than a suitable entry point for newcomers. Either you’re in or you’re out at this point.

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Unperfect Souls, by Mark del Franco (Ace, 2010)

Ever since Connor Grey kind of helped destroy the passageways between Earth and TirNaNog, dead Fey have been walking, unable to rest. But even the Dead can die, and when one of the Dead turns up without a head, it’s cause for concern. Decapitation = dead for good, for keeps, really, we mean it this time. As Connor helps his cop pal Murdock look into this mysterious murder, he finds himself poking into some very dark places. But at the same time, he gets ever-closer to discovering just what sort of magical oddity has taken up residence in his head and blocked the majority of his druidic powers. Hellhounds, politics, corpses that won’t stay dead, ex-girlfriends, current girlfriends, and much more all tie together, with a dangerous conspiracy providing the thread which connects them. And of course, it all comes down to Connor Gray to save the day.

As always, del Franco turns in a riveting mystery set against a fascinating setting, where the Fey have gone public in a big way and are divided into several diametrically opposed camps competing on a political and mythological level. The factional in-fighting and intrigue, and how it all trickles down to affect the average Fey on the street and the humans who share the same space helps to enhance the complexities of this series. Unperfect Souls picks up after Unfallen Dead, exploring some of the ramifications and twists we saw come into play there, while adding a whole new set of problems. We also see more explanations and progress into the mystery of Connor’s crippled magic, and he comes ever closer to putting together the pieces of an unfathomable puzzle.

Always entertaining is the nebulous relationship Connor has with the enigmatic, mercurial Meryl, who keeps him on his toes more often than not, and the close friendship he has with mortal cop Leo Murdock, who helps keep him grounded. It’s those moments of genuine interaction which help make the characters relatable and memorable in a sea of murder, magic, mayhem and politics. I’m really looking forward to the day when all is revealed and we can see the big picture at last; here’s hoping del Franco doesn’t string it out too long. I want nothing but the best for Connor and his friends. All in all, this is a perfectly entertaining urban fantasy, building on the first three books in the series while pushing towards some larger goal down the line. It may may be a little too wrapped up in its internal structure to act as an entry point for new readers, but existing fans will certainly enjoy it.

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Hunted By The Others, by Jess Haines (Zebra, 2010)

Shiarra Waynest is a private investigator who’s about to get way in over her head. Hired by a representative of the mage Circle to determine whether or not a local vampire is in possession of a certain magical artifact, she’s not at all sure she wants the job. Normally, she avoids the Others like the plague, but the money for this case is way too attractive to pass up. And that’s how she gets stuck smack-dab in the middle of a three-way struggle between mages, vampires, and the anti-Other vigilante group known as the White Hats. People will die, she’ll assemble a team of friends and allies, risk her life, and make a new name for herself as someone to be reckoned with.

You know? Hunted By The Others is a perfectly serviceable urban fantasy with the requisite hint of forbidden romance. It hits all the right beats as it turns its main character from someone who doesn’t want anything to do with the supernatural into someone who can kick ass with the best of them. By the end, she’s a walking, talking, bad girl cliché, decked out in her black leathers and armed with a magical stake-holding belt and dual laser-sight-equipped handguns and so forth. She has a werewolf ex-boyfriend, a vampire who might be her new love interest or her worst enemy, and somehow, it all seems kind of … well, generic. I read this book, I enjoyed it, and the details promptly slipped my mind. It’s not bad, but it’s not great, and there’s the problem: with so many urban fantasies out there already, you have to be great if you want to stand out. By far, the best thing about this book is the striking, attention-grabbing cover.

If you’re in the mood for something quick, easy, and relatively harmless, you could do far worse than to pick up this satisfactory series opener. I’ll most likely be back for the sequel, and hopefully it’ll make more of an impression on me than this one did.

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Hard Magic, by Laura Anne Gilman (Luna, 2010)

What do you do when you’re fresh out of college, unable to get a job that doesn’t involve a hairnet and a spatula, and magically talented? Well, if you’re Bonnie Torres, you get recruited by an enigmatic pair of magicians to help start the world’s first forensic paranormal investigation agency. That’s right, Bonnie and four strangers have just been tapped to start PUPI – Private, Unaffiliated, Paranormal Investigations -, dedicated to investigating and handling crimes within the magical community. Unaffiliated with either the hidebound Council or the fractious lonejacks, answering to no one, neutral in a world where the tension between factions is increasing steadily.

It won’t be easy. Bonnie and the others have to learn to work with one another, trust each other, hone their specific strengths and blend their styles to work as a team. They have to create an entire system of magical forensics from the ground up, and earn the trust of a great many people unused to trusting anyone. They have to prove their worth and hold strong against those who’d shut them down before they ever get started. And when their first case comes, it’s a trial by fire for the unready, untested group, and it might just be their last.

If you’re familiar with Gilman’s Retriever series, you may already know where some of this is going; Bonnie and the PUPIs appear in the latter half of that series and become semi-regular secondary characters. Hard Magic serves as the background and origin story for PUPI, and gives us in-depth introductions to the various members of the team and their various specialties. It’s an interesting look at the world of the Casa Nostradamus from an all-new viewpoint, and it gives us some more understanding of a setting where Talents (magic-users) and fatae (non-human beings of all sorts) walk among us in secret. Gilman’s clearly having a lot of fun here as she walks her characters through the invention of a whole new (for them, anyway) system of magical investigation and analysis, something we haven’t seen much of in the urban fantasy genre. (The closest comparison I can make is to Jes Battis’ Tess Corday series, which is much more high-tech and organized in its execution.)

The mystery is solid, the characterization strong, the plot fast-paced, and the final product solid. This is a great start to a new series, a perfect jumping-on point for new readers and a satisfying expansion of the world first visited in the Retrievers series. I loved Wren and Sergei’s story, and I’m now hooked on Bonnie Torres and the PUPIs.

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Unfallen Dead, by Mark Del Franco (Ace, 2009)

Ever since he lost the bulk of his magical abilities in an attempt to stop a magical terrorist, Connor Grey has eked out a living as a PI. As a druid and former investigator for the Fey Guild, he’s uniquely suited to assist the Boston police when things get too weird for their tastes, but not weird enough to concern the Guild itself. And despite having a black mass in his head where his ability to manipulate magical essence used to be, Connor’s gotten into some unusual scrapes, including preventing a recent near-apocalypse. In fact, thanks to that event, he now has a Queen of Faerie, the indomitable Ceridwen, asking awkward questions and poking into his affairs. He’s got a magical artifact — an ancient spear — that wants to go home with him; his former partner and best friend has just been assigned as the new field director for the Boston branch of the Guild, and a corpse has just turned up with druidic runes carved into its forehead. Something’s going on, and Boston may just be Ground Zero for more magical mayhem. As Samhain approaches and the barriers between life and death thin, Connor will find himself reliving some of the most painful moments of his past, even as worlds collide and deadly plans are set in motion. To save the day, he’ll have to push himself like never before, challenge death itself, and trust someone he hasn’t worked with in years. But there’ll be a cost. There’s always a cost for these sorts of things.

It’s odd, but while I enjoy this series in general, and find the concept to be an exciting one ripe with potential, and love it whenever the author expands the worldview and history, I consider the odd yes-they-are-no-they-aren’t relationship between Connor and his friend Meryl to be the best part of each new book. There’s this fun sense of playful unpredictability and simmering chemistry that makes them a great team. It’s not so much romantic as it is an exchange of personalities. Add into that the uneasy camaraderie between Connor and his old partner Dylan, and the comfortable friendship Connor shares with the all-too-mortal Detective Murdock of the Boston PD, and you have a series whose strength lies in character relationships, as well as in strong plots and subtle, unfamiliar scenery. Mind you, Unfallen Dead is a strong read on its own, one with a gripping plot and some serious stakes at hand. The blend of mythology, mystery, and action helps to make this urban fantasy stand out in its own way. I’d definitely recommend this one to the Harry Dresden or Felix Castor fans.

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Sins & Shadows, by Lyn Benedict (Ace, 2009)

Sylvie Lightner runs the Florida-based Shadows Inquiries, a small firm which investigates the decidedly weird aspects of the world. That is, until she sees a friend and employee killed in front of her. Tired of killing monsters and becoming one herself in the process, and afraid she’ll get someone else she knows killed, she decides it’s time to shut up shop for good. But even as she’s turning out the lights, a cop named Kevin Dunne muscles his way in, accompanied by a trio of attitude-laden women. Claiming that he’s the Greek God of Justice and his companions are the Furies, he wants to hire Sylvie to find his lost lover, and refusal is not an option. Reluctantly, Sylvie takes the job, only to discover that things aren’t as they seem. Sure, Dunne is the God of Justice, but he’s not the only god involved in this mess. oh no. Something deep and rich and complicated is afoot, involving monsters and gods, mortals and immortals, and poor Sylvie is right there in the middle. Sylvie will have to call in her allies, and forge tenuous truces not just with one of the Furies, but also with Demalion, the agent of a secret government agency formed to deal with the supernatural. Can she trust either of them when the chips are down? Or will their previous loyalties win out? Before all is said and done, Sylvie will discover some hard truths about the world, about her own heritage, and about the lives and deaths of the gods.

The start of a new series, Sins & Shadows comes out of the gate at full speed, and doesn’t slow down. Lyn Benedict delivers one hell of a powerful expertly weaving Greek, Egyptian and Christian lore and traditions together before tossing them into a modern setting. She’s managed to find her own little niche in the crowded world of paranormal investigation stories, populating it with memorable characters and a compelling mystery. I have to say, I love the depth of characterization and personality granted to Erinya, one of the Furies. Though just a supporting character, she steals the scene whenever she’s around to growl and stomp and exude pure attitude. Sylvie herself is a tough cookie, one willing to boss around gods and monsters alike to get the job done.

It’s obvious that this will be another fun urban fantasy series, and I’ll definitely stick around to see what’s in store for Sylvie Lightner in the future. She’s made some powerful friends and enemies in Sins & Shadows, and there’s plenty of potential for additional adventures, and evidence that her back story needs exploring as well. Here’s hoping we see more soon.

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Dancing on the Head of a Pin, by Thomas Sniegoski (Roc, 2009)

The recent death of his wife Maddie has left Boston-based P.I. Remy Chandler in an emotional downward spiral, bereft of one of his major connections to the humanity he’s cultivated for millennia. For Remy’s no ordinary gumshoe; once upon a time he was Remiel, a Seraphim of the Heavenly Host, an angel who fought loyally for Heaven until the brutalities of war caused him to reject his duties, hide his nature, and adopt a veneer of humanity. Despite his best efforts to avoid the entanglements and trappings of his previous existence, his old life has a nasty habit of sneaking up on him. Recently, he helped to thwart the Apocalypse, and as a result, dark things are once again stirring at the edges of society.

Take his newest case: Remy’s been hired to track down a batch of weapons which vanished from a private collector’s vault. No ordinary weapons, these are older than mankind and filled with a dark power and purpose. Whoever possesses them could be an unstoppable killer … or use them for an even darker, more unthinkable purpose. All of a sudden, trouble’s crawling out of the woodwork, trouble that smells like Hell. Now Remy has to find the weapons known as the Pitiless, keep them out of the wrong hands, and puzzle out why the enigmatic Nomads, an angelic faction which refused to take sides, might be involved. The answers will take Remy and his allies into the depths of Tartarus itself, where fallen angels reside and Lucifer Morningstar himself is imprisoned. The balance between Heaven and Hell will be irrevocably altered, no matter how Remy handles this one. The only question is, what will it cost him? Even angels can die, under the right circumstances….

With this book, Sniegoski tosses his cards on the table, revealing that he’s working on a much larger scale than the average urban fantasy, and playing for a larger pot than the average noir detective tale. Remy may have started off trying to pull a simple retrieval job, but the events set in motion are centuries in the making, and the consequences are epic in nature. And yet, there’s an intensely human, personal aspect to Remy’s struggle to balance his Seraphim and human natures, his attempts to ground himself with friends and family and a mortal job even as Heaven comes knocking on his door to invite him home. Good thing he has his ever-loyal Labrador Marlowe and his cop friend Mulveville to keep him human when the Heavenly temptations get to be a bit much.

Dancing on the Head of a Pin is a tightly-woven mixture of mystery and dark fantasy, presenting an intriguing vision of a Hell reserved for fallen angels who have yet to earn their parole for good behavior, a place of punishment and imprisonment not for wayward humans, but for Heaven’s unfaithful children. It offers up a complex underground society of rebellious, disaffected, even war-traumatized supernatural beings who’ve fallen a long ways from their original glory. It even offers up a small hint as to what the war cost those who remained loyal; it seems no one escaped unscathed, and some wounds have never healed. A third book in the series is clearly a necessity, given the way things turn out in this one. The more Remy Chandler’s world unfolds, the more I want to see. I want to know his this saga turns out.

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Free Fall, by Laura Anne Gilman (Harlequin Luna, 2008)

Life used to be -easy- for Wren Valere. She kept under the radar, and did her job as a Retriever, acquiring objects for people who didn’t care about cost or legality. But that was before things got messy. Before she fell in love with her business partner, Sergei. Before people started dying. Before a secret society known as the Silence declared open war on the Cosa Nostradamus – the equally secret society made up of magic users, or Talent, and the non-humans called Fatae. Before Wren became a leader in spirit, if not in name, of the Cosa. Before she lost Sergei due to his old affiliations with the Silence.

Now Manhattan is poised on the brink of conflict once again. The Silence, led by a corrupt leader, is ready to unleash a plan that will destroy the Talent and Lonejacks and Fatae once and for all, reclaiming the city for normal humans even as they use brainwashed Talents to do their dirty work. Wren, finally provoked into fighting back after she survives yet another attack, is determined to rescue the Cosa’s lost kin from the Silence’s clutches. Meanwhile, Sergei has a daring, dangerous plan of his own to undermine the Silence and save it from itself. One way or another, it’s all going to come together and be settled once and for all. Brace yourselves, a storm’s about to hit Manhattan, and in the worst blackout the city’s ever seen, dirty deeds -will- be done.

Free Fall is the fifth book in the Retrievers series, and Gilman pretty much kicks things up to eleven as she moves all of the pieces on the board towards the inevitable confrontation. Silence, Talents, Lonejacks, Fatae, and humans alike all have their parts to play as things get epically messy and the current story arc reaches its climax and conclusion. It’s a fast-paced story, as electrical and sharp as the current our heroine wields against her enemies, as raw and ragged as the emotions she experiences as Wren Valere goes through one of the worst times of her life.

Not that it’s all hard-hitting action, or blazing magical combat. Free Fall doesn’t skimp on the characterization or development, especially as Gilman looks as those closest to Wren and how events have affected them. From Sergei, whose conflicting loyalties are brought to a breaking point, to the demon P.B. who decides that now is the time and place to make a stand, to Bonnie, Wren’s friend and fellow Talent who can’t approve of the way things are going, to all of Manhattan’s Fatae, we see the cost of this war… and what they stand to lose if things go against them.

One of the strong points of Gilman’s setting here is that actions have consequences, and power has a price, and we see both of these things in full force. Everything Wren does causes a reaction, and everything the Silence does causes a reaction, and in some cases, those separate yet equal reactions end up feeding off one another. It’s almost ironic that at one point, the Silence realizes that they, in fact, provoked Wren into taking things further than she would have done ordinarily, thus bringing her wrath down upon them… and it’s their fault. Meanwhile, Wren taps into far greater power than she normally uses, and risks losing herself to the current, a much-feared fate known as ‘wizzing’ among the Talents. There’s a cost to using the level she does, and she may very well pay that price with her soul. Gilman’s not afraid to show us these costs, as both major and minor characters get taken off the board throughout the course of the series and the story. Change -happens-, and people grow, which is always satisfying in a series like this, where it would be tempting to maintain a certain status quo.

I really enjoyed Free Fall, like I have the rest of the series. It’s strong, enjoyable, complex stories like this which have made Harlequin’s Luna line more than just another romance imprint, and you can bet I’ll be eagerly awaiting the next book.

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A Kiss Before The Apocalypse, by Thomas E. Sniegoski (Roc, 2008)

Meet Remy Chandler, P.I. Unlike ordinary detectives, he can turn invisible, speak any language, and read thoughts on occasion. And while he appears to be human, he’s not. Once upon a time when the world was young, he was the angel Remiel, but that was before he fell in love with humanity, and abandoned his former job for a more fulfilling life here on Earth. Unfortunately, he’s coping with the tragedy of outliving those he cares for, as he watches his wife, who he met decades ago, draw close to the end of her lifespan. But even an angel-turned-private investigator has bills to pay, so Remy takes on what he thinks is your average case of a philandering husband. When a simple stake-out leves him as witness to a bizarre murder-suicide, Remy’s soon dragged into a case unlike any he’s ever worked before.

It seems that the Angel of Death has gone missing (or gone native like Remy did) and with him, the scrolls of the Apocalypse have up and vanished as well. Now Remy’s former coworkers, the Seraphim, want to hire him to find the wayward Israfil and retrieve the scrolls before things get messy. However, with no Angel of Death, there can be no death, and Remy finds the idea of preventing his wife’s death to be … tempting. On the flip side, there’s every indication that someone’s after those missing scrolls in order to break the seals and call forth the Four Horsemen, to destroy the world and wipe it all clean.

Looks like Remy Chandler’s on the job, for better or for worse, and no one and nothing will stop him from seeing it through to its completion. Not even the mustered forces of the dreaded Black Choir, or treachery from a supposedly trusted ally, or the Apocalypse itself will prevent him from doing his job. Unfortunately, it may just cost him his hard-won humanity, as circumstances may require him to dig deep and unleash his long-buried true nature. It’s a heck of a job, but he’s just the angel to do it.

I’ve seen just about every kind of supernatural/paranormal P.I. there is, from vampire to sorcerer to robot, and yet there’s always room for a new variation on an old standard. In this case, it’s Thomas sniegoski and his clever, skillful interpretation of a world-weary angel who became a detective because of his fondness for Raymond Chandler’s works. Remy Chandler is memorable, sympathetic, and fascinating, an immortal who willingly locked away his powers and potential in order to walk among ordinary humans because it was far more appealing to him than staying an angel. He’s your archtypical hard-headed, suicidally stubborn, two-fisted hero, though he fights off Hellspawn rather than mobsters, and his missing people might just bring about the end of the world. Sniegoski populates Remy Chandler’s world with some interesting characters, including a still-living Lazarus (yes, -that- Lazarus), the decadent renegade faction of angels known as the Grigori (the moral opposites of Remy in many ways) and Francis, an angel who now runs a halfway house for redeemed sinners released from Hell on parole. It’s an intriguing world, obviously drawing heavily from Judeo-Christian mythology for its inspiration (though admittedly taking liberties as necessary) without being preachy or overtly religious. Points to the author for treating the source material like any other collection of myths and tales. After all, the territory covered by the Christian mythos is usually such a touchy subject (where the Greeks, Romans, Norse, Celts, and so on are perfectly fair game), so it’s nice to see it used in such fashion. It’s clearly respectful, and at the same time entertaining.

The plot itself is fairly strsightforward, though there’s more than one surprise in store for Remy and reader alike as the hero gets to the bottom of the mystery of the missing angel, and attempts to prevent a premature Apocalypse in the bargain. However, the real emphasis is on Remy’s internal conflict: remain as human as possible, or sacrifice his own happiness to save the world. I think this is a great start to what’s hopefully a new series, and I hope it won’t be too long before we see Remy Chandler again.

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