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Category: Crossover Crime

Crossover Crime: Waking the Witch by Kelley Armstrong

Reviewed by Mandy Wrangles

Waking the Witch is the twelfth book in Kelley Armstrong’s Women of the Otherworld series and opens with a fantastic cross-genre premise.

Savannah Levine is a private investigator in training. She also happens to be the orphaned daughter of a black witch and a demon and isn’t afraid to throw her inherited power around. At 21 and working in her guardian’s detective agency that specialises in all things supernatural, she’s dying to prove herself with a case of her own. In this story, she gets her chance. Three young women have been murdered in the fading factory town of Columbus in what looks like ritualistic killings. With her guardians away, Savannah takes on the case as a favour to an associate and at first glance it looks like nothing more than a garden-variety human set-up. But on closer inspection, things get nasty – especially for Savannah.

Savannah is gutsy, smart and pragmatic. She’s one of those characters you can’t help but love; she’s sassy and laugh-out-loud funny at times. But she’s also sensitive and flawed; a romantic at heart. Just don’t annoy her or you might find yourself on the wrong end of her temper and a particularly nasty spell!

Waking the Witch is a typical investigative crime novel at its heart, with supernatural elements thrown in. As Savannah digs deeper into Columbus’ inner workings, she finds her lists of suspects growing longer and longer. There’s the dirty local entrepreneur who bullies the townsfolk (and his wife, it seems) for his own means and also happens to have a ‘past’ with one of the dead women. There’s the cult leader and his harem of cookie-baking lost-girls just out of town with an interest in the occult, family members and associates of the victims, two of whom were anything but innocents. Even the local cops might know more than they’re letting on.

And then – there’s the love interest. I’m not going too far into this particular sub-plot – mainly because it’s not the focus of the story. There’s just enough to make you care about the characters involved, but this is by no means anything close to a romance novel.

This is the first book of Armstrong’s Women of the Otherworld series that I’ve read. I generally never read a series out of order, however the author’s website makes it clear that each book is a stand-alone and reading order is irrelevant. For most of Waking the Witch, I found this true. There’s just enough back-story to fill the reader in on what they need to know, without overdosing on useless information. Throughout the story, I didn’t feel lost or out of the loop. Unfortunately, I did feel let down by the climatic ending. As a crime novel, this story is tightly told, the reveal not overly obvious, and multiple twists kept me reading. But unless you’ve read previous books in this series, the ending will disappoint. I have to admit I felt ripped-off after investing time in a novel I was enjoying only to find a character that was given only a very fleeting mention at the start of the book (in back-story) become the catalyst at the end.

My recommendation? Read this series in the order it was released, you’ll get far more out of it.

Published by Orbit

Paperback, 325 pages

ISBN – 978-1-84149-806-5

Crossover Crime: Side Jobs - Stories From The Dresden Files

Reviewed by: Mandy Wrangles

Harry Dresden, Chicago’s first (and only) Wizard PI is almost too awesome. Seriously, this character is a rare gem. Not only is he is a self-deprecating hero, the protector of supernaturally-blinkered mortals of the city as well as the protector of the supernatural community itself (well, the good guys, anyway…), the wielder of some very cool, magical weaponry, wears a long leather duster and has a giant dog for a side-kick – but he’s ridiculously funny. In fact, his creator, Jim Butcher, had me laughing out loud in more than one story of this fantastical anthology of short stories.

Side Jobs is a collection of eight short stories and a novella, each of them taking place between the thirteen (so far) Dresden Files novels. Jim Butcher introduces each story with his trademark humour, and it’s easy to note that much of Dresden’s personality is similar to his creator. The first story in the collection, ‘A Restoration of Faith’, was, in fact written a couple of years before the first novel, originally a creative writing class assignment. Butcher notes: “Read this story for what it is – an anxious beginner’s first effort, meant to be simple, straightforward fun.” And that’s exactly what it is – fun, lots and lots of fun (honestly, if you can’t get a giggle out of a smart-arsed, sex-starved spirit imprisoned in a skull kept in the basement – you have no sense of humour).

‘It’s My Birthday Too’ was first published in the collection ‘Many Bloody Returns’, edited by the queen of paranormal crime – Charlaine Harris. This one tells the story of Dresden trying to surprise his half-brother Thomas for his birthday. Instead of a warm and fuzzy family get together, Harry finds himself in an almost-deserted shopping centre with a crazed vampire on the loose. Harry’s half-brother, who also happens to be a good vampire (mostly) is helping out a friend’s role-playing group. But it’s a bit more complicated than that. Thomas might be a heterosexual blood-sucker/succubi, but he gets through his days camouflaged as a gay hairdresser. So in this story, he’s a straight vampire, who, by day pretends to be a gay hairdresser, at a role playing night pretending to be a straight vampire. Get it? Another high point of this story was Dresden’s interaction with the fairy cobblers who have a weakness for designer stilettos. Hilarious.

‘Something Borrowed’ first appeared in the anthology ‘My Big Fat Supernatural Wedding’, edited by P.N. Elrod. In this one, Harry is forced to deal with the evil Jenny Greenteeth. “Yes,her teeth are green. Like steamed spinach,” as Bob the skull notes. She also happens to be much like a mermaid with legs and not quite so cuddly.

But the stand out story in this collection was ‘Herot’, which was written especially for the follow up collection ‘My Big Fat Supernatural Honeymoon’, again edited by P.N. Elrod. This time around, Harry does battle with a hideously horny creature direct from Norse mythology, with a penchant for boutique mead and virgins.

Side Jobs is an anthology for hardcore Harry Dresden fans. With each story being slotted between novels, there’s spoiler upon spoiler for those who haven’t yet read the series. In particular, the final novella, ‘Aftermath’, will ruin the grand finale of ‘Changes’, the twelfth Dresden Files book. If you love your crime mixed with the supernatural, and a good dose of sarcastic humour, I’d recommend getting stuck into the novels first – and then returning to this unique collection for that extra little bit of Dresden magic.

Published by Orbit

ISBN – 978 1 84149 920 8

Paperback, 403 pages.

Crossover Crime: Working Stiff

Working Stiff by Rachel Caine

ISBN: 978-0451464132

Review by: Cecilia Jansink

Every now and then; you stumble across a novel that simply blows you away. So much so that you want to shout about its existence from the nearest rooftop. Rachel Caine’s (author of The Morganville Vampires and Weather Warden Series’) latest offering “Working Stiff” is one of those rare finds.  Packed full of corporate espionage, Government black ops, extreme science, a sprinkling of love and lust and a terrifying new zombie twist, Working Stiff will have your heart racing at a million miles an hour.

Ex- Solider Bryn Davis knows that working in a Mortuary isn’t the most glamorous career choice, but after the madness of war she’s looking forward to a serene change. Besides, Fairview has a good reputation and her Boss seems nice – even if he does have a reputation for going through Funeral Directors.

But Bryn’s life is thrown into turmoil when she discovers her Boss is in fact running a lucrative and highly illegal side business – resurrecting the dead with a top secret drug. Now, finding herself at the mercy of drug company Pharmadene, Bryn must race against the clock to discover the mole within the company and save her own “life”. Only problem is Pharmadene treats death as the ultimate employee loyalty program – and the last thing Bryn wants is to end up as a real “working stiff”.

Working Stiff is non-stop action right from the very first page. In fact, the biggest problem you will face is putting it down. And if you do, you’ll feel guilty for leaving Bryn perched precariously on one cliff top or another.

In true Caine style, Bryn is one heck of a strong leading force, yet still retains that deep emotional draw that makes her feel completely real to the reader. We are also treated to an impressive ensemble of secondary characters and of course, plenty of double-crossing and hidden agendas to keep you guessing. The plot feels as fresh as a summer storm and will be a sure-fire hit with lovers of both the paranormal element and of crime thrillers. Working Stiff is an amazing first offering in the brand new “Revivalist “series, and if the rest are as breathtaking as this – it will be one nail-biting ride.

Crossover Crime: The Shattering

Reviewed by: Mandy Wrangles

The Shattering, by New Zealand author Karen Healey, (now living in Australia) is a great example of how crime and the supernatural world can collide in Young Adult fiction – and there’s not a vampire, werewolf or fairy in sight.

The Shattering is set in the small coastal holiday town of Summerton, where everything seems perfect. The weather is gorgeous, the scenery is stunning, and come summer holidays, there are all those out-of-town holiday makers to hook up with for a quick romance. But is there something more sinister going on? Why don’t any of the locals leave Summerton for good? And just why doesn’t it ever rain on New Year’s Eve?

The opening few chapters of The Shattering are brilliant. Keri  – one of three main characters – might be able to plan for most incidents (like what to do if you break your arm) but nothing prepares her for finding her brother Joel’s body after he empties a loaded shotgun into his mouth. Keri’s voice, told in first person is gritty and true, the grieving process about as raw as it gets. She’s lost the only person in the world who really knew her, the only person she could spill every personal secret to. Now an only child, she also has to cope with grieving parents and the way her Maori culture deals with a death such as his.

Then, in the midst of her grief, Keri is approached by an old friend, who claims she knows what reallyhappened to Joel. The narrative then slips to third person, from the point of view of two other characters, Janna and Sione, alternating with Keri’s first person. This works most of the time, though occasionally I felt the voices muddled with each other. Janna is the local rock-chick, a player in more ways than one. She and Keri might have been friends when they were small, but their differences have meant they drifted apart over the years. Keri wants to play rugby; Janna likes dressing up in short skirts, playing in her band, dreaming of universal stardom and enjoys the conquest of cute guys on holidays in Summerton. But they do have one thing in common – Janna’s brother also committed suicide a few years ago. Janna introduces Keri to Sione, a Samoan rich-boy who might have brains and snappy clothes, but missed out on the confidence gene. That went to his older brother – another suicide victim. Between the three teens, they decide there are too many coincidences to their brothers’ deaths, and set out to find who – or what – it was that actually killed them.

The Shattering lost me a little in the middle, particularly when it came to Janna and Sione’s chapters. For the first half of the book, it felt like a straight crime story, and when the supernatural elements did slowly began to appear, it was a bit out of left-field. However, after a chance to get resettled, this book really works most of the time and is well worth persevering with. The characters can be clichéd, but the introduction of their different cultures and the mythology that went along with them was intriguing. Healey’s writing style is clever, sneaky and surprising. The plot twists seem to come from nowhere, until you realise the clues were there all along, hidden just beneath the surface. This might be a mystery with paranormal elements, but it’s also a great coming-of-age story. The growth of each character is rewarding; it’s impossible not to care what happens to each of the three and their mission to discover what really happened to their big brothers.

If you like your crime and paranormal activity home-grown, I definitely recommend checking out The Shattering’, along with Karen Healey’s first novel, ‘Guardian of The Dead.’

Published by Allen&Unwin

Young Adult

Paperback, 320 pages.

ISBN: 978-1-74175-881-8

Crossover Crime: Sookie Stackhouse Southern Vampire Series

Reviewed by: Mandy Wrangles

Unless you’ve been hanging out in a coffin of late, you’ve probably heard of the television series True Blood. Yes, the one about the vampires with lots of sex, nudity and even more gloriously gooey blood.

But have you read the books?

Those fabulously kooky characters from Bon Temps began (and continue) their lives in the imagination of author Charlaine Harris in the Sookie Stackhouse Southern Vampire Series. Given that book number eleven – Dead Reckoning – has just hit the shelves, I thought it was about time we looked at this fantastic example of Paranormal Crime Fiction. Yes, Paranormal Crime.

So what have vampires, shifters, fae and a telepathic waitress have to do with crime? Plenty, actually. Charlaine Harris is a crime writer to the bone, with a number of other crime and mystery series under her belt. The Sookie Stackhouse novels are each centred around a crime (or three or four, depending on the novel) and always smack bang in the middle of it is Sookie herself, trying to put two and two together to get three. This is one of the many areas the books differ to the television program – but don’t get me wrong, I’m a big fan of the True Blood; it’s just a different animal, that’s all. Throughout the book series are continuous story arcs, but each novel is also a self-contained mystery. A who or whatdunnit. And since the books are all told from telepath Sookie’s point of view, we get a great insight into exactly what she hears transmitting from other people’s heads, even if they’re trying to hide it themselves.

Book One, Dead Until Dark introduces us to many of the long term characters of the series. We meet Sookie, her brother Jason, Bill the vampire as well as his ‘boss’, Sheriff Eric Northman and Eric’s right-hand gal, Pam, Sam the Shape-Shifter and Sookie’s boss and loads of other favourites from Bon Temps. Vampires are out of the closet / coffin and slowly integrating into human society when a couple of Fang-Bangers are murdered (for those not in the know, a Fang Banger is a human who err, likes to ‘hang out’ with vampires. In a very intimate manner.) At first it looks like a rogue vamp is on the loose, inciting hatred from bigoted humans, but it soon becomes obvious – to Sookie anyway – that this is the work of something more sinister, a set up of some kind. And unfortunately her brother, Jason looks like he may well have played a part. So begins Sookie’s quest to uncover the true murderer and clear her brother’s name.

This is a pretty typical scenario in the Sookie books, although they’re by no means formulaic. As a reader, you’re never quite sure who the bad guy or girl will be, if they’re a ‘supe’ (supernatural being) doing wrong by humans, humans doing wrong by supes, or just supes doing bad by eachother. But the crime and the twist are always there, and Sookie just keeps on getting in – and out – of trouble. Sookie herself is by far one of the strongest, most engaging female protagonists I’ve read in forever. After eleven novels and a short story collection, she feels like an old friend I only get to visit with once a year as each new novel is released. She’s laugh-out-loud funny, compassionate, whip smart and ready to stand up for herself and her friends. She also has utterly exquisite taste in men – or should I say vampires.

Most of the Sookie Stackhouse novels are what I’d classify as one or two day reads. They’re just too much fun to put down. Sure, some of the eleven novels are stronger than others, but in such a complex world this is bound to happen. Even by Dead Reckoning, the magic is still there. I would, however, recommend reading the books in correct order to get the most out of the back story.

Sookie Stackhouse Southern Vampire Series (True Blood) novels in reading order:
Dead until Dark
Living Dead in Dallas
Club Dead
Dead to the World
Dead as a Doornail
Definitely Dead
All Together Dead
From Dead to Worse
Dead and Gone
A Touch of Dead (short story collection)
Dead in the Family
Dead Reckoning