Thursday, April 19, 2012

Monsters, Mambos, & Mayhem in Manhattan

Running around Manhattan in a dingy pair of track shoes is hardly an activity likely to raise many eyebrows. Neither is dashing about clad in designer-heel knockoffs or sporting a skimpy cocktail waitress get-up, for that matter. But, conducting a considerable amount of all that hustling back and forth at sky level, from one rooftop to another, or mucking about in the subterranean levels, below the deepest subway tunnels? That definitely qualifies as unusual. And, doing it loaded down with an assortment of guns, throwing knives, and other concealable weaponry, in pursuit of creatures straight out of “The Night Stalker”? Yeah, that’s just plain odd, even by New York standards.
It’s all just another day’s work for intrepid Verity Price, though, in Discount Armageddon, the first book from Seanan McGuire’s brand-new (and delightfully off-kilter) urban fantasy series, known as the “InCryptid Novels”. [Curious about her other works? Check out my reviews, here and here.]

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It seems that the rooftop-scaling, underground-prowling Ms. Price came by her fascination with creatures-that-go-bump-in-the-night quite naturally, hailing--as she does--from a long line of cryptid-(monster)-hunters-cum-researchers (or cryptozoologists, to use the proper jargon). Originally part of an ancient order of monster hunters known as The Covenant of St. George, the family broke off following an ethics dispute generations earlier. 
Since their acrimonious split, the Prices have functioned independently, trying to maintain a peaceful co-existence with the cryptid population by studying them and searching for amicable solutions to problems between the different segments. The Covenant, on the other hand, holds a grudge like nobody’s business, and their current crop of devotees--who function rather like a modern-day, traveling Inquisition (minus the religious overtones)--have made it their mission not only to rid the world of cryptids, but Prices, as well... forcing the beleaguered Prices to conduct their work (and live their lives) in secret.
And about that whole secrecy thing... not ideal under the best of circumstances, of course, but especially difficult for a willful young woman like Verity, whose grand passion in life happens to be... ballroom dance. (What, you think someone who studies monsters can’t nail the technique for doing a full-on, down-and-dirty Argentinian tango, or a romantic, lyrical waltz? Ha. Feel free to argue that with the girl who began training to fight--and win--before she entered kindergarten.)
As fate would have it, it’s that same love of dance which lands Verity in quite a nasty mess in Discount Armageddon. If she weren’t pursuing her professional ballroom dance career (disguised and under an alias, of course) in New York City--on the opposite side of the U.S. from the rest of her family (and more importantly, from any support if/when things get dicey)--then she also wouldn’t have been conducting solo research there, or been on her own to deal with the sudden rash of cryptid disappearances. (She wouldn’t have found herself face-to-face with a deadly-earnest Covenant dude looking to make a name for himself on his first big solo mission, either.)
Between trying to pay rent (even at a majorly-reduced rate for her not-remotely-legal sublet) and scrounge up enough funds for the competition entry fees and wardrobe expenses (part and parcel in the world of dance) by moonlighting as a cocktail waitress in a sleazy nightclub, and keeping up with the family work (which was a big condition in her being allowed to go off on her own, in the first place), it’s not like Verity doesn’t already have enough on her plate. Whoever is behind the mysterious cryptid disappearances--heavy on single young females, curiously--clearly doesn’t care about making things convenient for Verity, though. And, when tragedy strikes close to home, and cryptids she knows personally start winding up missing (or worse), she knows she has no choice but to get involved. 
As rumors of terrible, ancient monsters abound and tensions mount among Manhattan’s large cryptid segment, Verity finds herself being sucked into the center of the maelstrom... and forced to consider allying herself with one of her worst enemies, before every cryptid--and maybe, even, every human--in the city winds up dead. Or worse...       

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If her Toby Daye series is “Seanan McGuire having a typical, somewhat-crappy day (week, year) filled with occasional bursts of maniacal laughter to stave off the insanity”, and the Newsflesh zombie books are “Mira Grant (McGuire’s sci-fi alter ego) waking up sweating bullets after a really bad frickin’ nightmare (one full of evil clowns, chainsaws, and the Plague)”, then Discount Armageddon falls more along the lines of “Seanan McGuire enjoying Rainbow Brite daydreams of happy sparkly ponies and cupcakes (until a fluffy kitten accidentally impales her with a claw when leaping onto her lap)”. In other words, it’s a lighter take on monsters and the people who live among them; there’s no intricate world-building, and everything generally moves along at a faster pace, from the relationships to the action. It’s a little bit campy, a little bit pulp... and I enjoyed the heck out of it. (Hey, I live for “So You Think You Can Dance” and “Dancing with the Stars”, so having a kick-ass, samba- and jive-dancing heroine like Verity Price is just plain cool, in my book.) It still has that quintessential McGuire flavor, too, full of wicked smarts, sarcasm, and biting wit, wrapped up in a slightly wonky way of looking at the world. (Again, I so get that.)
If you like your urban fantasy on the light-and-spicy side--or could just use a break from heavier fare--Discount Armageddon should definitely find a spot on your list. It’s delectable entertainment, pure and simple. :)

GlamKitty Catnip Mousie Rating:  A Fabulously-Fun Mousie

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Sailing into Dangerous Waters

It sounded like the perfect getaway to San Francisco native, Detective Katrina Hunter... a couple weeks off work, taking her prized sailboat out for a leisurely trip down the coast to Ensenada, Mexico. 
At least, it would’ve been perfect... were it not for the fact that her fiancé--make that, ex-fiancé--was supposed to have been by her side, celebrating their upcoming nuptials. Or that it was actually a forced vacation, given her mandatory leave of absence from the SFPD after shooting her sister’s scary stalker. Yep, aside from those teensy little issues, everything should’ve been peachy.
Until, that is, her sun-dazzled, weary eyes go and spy what she swears is a mermaid, floating on a patch of seaweed. On closer inspection, the mermaid (rather disappointingly, if not surprisingly) turns out to be a dead young woman, whom Katy immediately reports to the nearest authorities. Unfortunately for her, though, that means the Mexican authorities... an overworked, underpaid--not to mention, rife-with-corruption--police force not known for showing patience (or leniency) to troublesome foreigners... not even, as she soon discovers, to their stateside counterparts.  
Such is the stage for author R.P. Dahlke’s newest mystery-suspense, A Dangerous Harbor.
Back on the mainland, Katy assumes she’s in for a succinct, cop-to-cop discussion of events--how she found the body, her initial impressions of the scene, etc. Instead, her reception involves the least-welcoming of welcoming committees, which deposits her in a tiny, stuffy interview room, leaving her there to stew (literally and figuratively) for the next several hours.  
Nor do things greatly improve once Chief Inspector Raul Vignaroli finally deigns to commence their little tête-à-tête. (Suave and sophisticated the Mexican-Italian cop may be, but his manners toward her--a fellow officer of the law--are sorely lacking.) And, to make matters worse, the police bring in another American--a scruffy handcuffed man Katy knew very well a long time ago--who’s been living in Ensenada, and is currently Suspect Numero Uno in the dead girl’s untimely demise.
After a grueling grilling by the mesmerizing-but-maddening inspector, both are released, with certain provisions. Her old friend--whose guilt is now in some doubt--has to promise not to flee the area. Katy, meanwhile, finds herself agreeing to remain docked for another week or so... during which time she’ll try to find out everything she can about the others staying at the same marina. The inspector has a likely group of candidates--all of them Americans--in mind; he just needs her to sniff out which among them is the most-likely guilty party. (She could refuse, but since someone from the police chained her beautiful boat to the pier while she was hanging out at the police station, she decides there’s little point. Besides, the man is awfully appealing.)
It isn’t long before she starts regretting her decision, though, as the cast of suspicious characters prove to be anything but helpful. (I was amused to realilze that they reminded me a bit of the “Gilligan’s Island” castaways.) There’s the wealthy, middle-aged (and married) business tycoon who owns the showiest pleasure yacht at the marina, and his much-younger, buxom (and not-his-wife) traveling companion; his stuttering accountant (suffering from a bad case of puppy love for the boss’s Pretty Young Thang) and the man’s bitter, domineering wife, on a crappy little boat that barely stays afloat; the muscle-bound young stud (with an ego to match) who pilots Mr. Big Bucks‘ boat; a laughably-incompetent, middle-aged magician who does tricks by night (and runs scams by day), and his less-than-enthusiastic younger assistant; and the bandy-legged, Mexican local hired to help out while everyone is moored there. 
As Katy fends off advances from her exes, lands in the middle of catfights and drunken brawls, receives threatening messages, dodges bullets in the dark of night, worries about angering the local drug cartels, and even learns the ropes of owning a pet when she receives a “Baja fishing cat” (yes, she gets a kitten, and one who likes to fish, at that!), she realizes there’s something even more pressing on her mind... a growing attraction to the enigmatic Chief Vignaroli, who got her into this whole mess in the first place... and who also happens to be the one man she has no logical reason to think she could ever have.
A Dangerous Harbor is the second R.P. Dahlke book I’ve read (the first was A Dead Red Cadillac, check out my review here), and I definitely enjoy her easy style. She favors strong female leads with great senses of humor and some grit... women who don’t require rescuing, instead using their brains to think themselves out of predicaments. Realistic problems, such as prickly family relationships and normal insecurities, add to their believability.
Dahlke also provides her readers with a good sense of place when she writes; here, she describes solo-sailing on the ocean, and gives a nice feel for the Baja area.  
One key difference in A Dangerous Harbor is there’s more emphasis on the romance aspect--a slow-burning sexual tension that gets hotter as the story progresses--which I suspect will please a lot of readers.
Dahlke’s books are quick, fun reads, diversions which only ask you that enjoy the ride. No trouble there. :)

GlamKitty Catnip Mousie Rating:  A Fun Read (worthy of some fine mousie-batting)