Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Unsympathetic Magic

Unsympathetic Magic is the 3rd of Laura Resnick’s Esther Diamond urban fantasy series (still waiting for DAW to release Disappearing Nightly). As I had a lot of fun with the 2nd of these: Doppelgangster, I was looking forward to reading Unsympathetic Magic.

It starts off very promisingly. During Doppelgangster, a doppelganger of Esther managed to land her a guest role as a homeless bisexual junkie prostitute on controversial cop show The Dirty Thirty (it’s part of the Crime & Punishment stable of shows. This is obviously a gentle dig at Law & Order and it’s 86 spin offs). While filming one night in Harlem the lead actor gets sick and Esther heads off after the crew to get something to eat. Along the way she encounters a sword wielding young vigilante, a zombie and 2 gargoyles. This causes her to try and get help and as she’s dressed for the character of Jilly C-Note she winds up getting arrested. After calling in order; the show, her agent, her friend Max and failing to get an answer she calls her ex-boyfriend detective Conor Lopez. This is pretty much life as normal for Esther.

Lopez obligingly bails Esther out and doesn’t believe a word of her story, he never does, but a little investigation proves that the incident does need looking into. Having lost her keys in the struggle with the gargoyle,s Esther is locked out of her apartment, so goes to see her friend; the 350 year old magician Maximilian Zadok. The words mystery and magic are like a red flag to a bull where Max is concerned and Esther soon finds herself at Livingston Foundation, a charitable organisation for underprivileged youth set up by billionaire Martin Livingston. Since Livingston’s death the foundation/cultural centre has been managed by his widow; Catherine. The zombie, whose name in life had been Darius Phelps, worked at Livingston. A chance encounter with an old flame; Jeff Clark, gets Esther a job teaching acting to the kids at the centre and gives her a reason to hang around there and investigate further.

Before long Esther, Max, Jeff, Biko (the sword toting vigilante) and his older sister Puma are looking into an evil voodoo practitioner known as a bokor operating out of Livingston and about to call down some cataclysmic magic on New York. Esther’s never really over relationship with Lopez is rekindled and this time she’s the one who gives him up for their own good.

It sounds like a heap of crazy fun, and at times it is, but overall I was disappointed. The middle section of the book really drags. There’s far too much tell and nowhere near enough show. To totally understand what’s going on it is necessary for the author to educate her readers about voodoo, or as it is referred to in the book; vodou. She seemed to get a little bit carried away and there are about 3 chapters of infodumping, I had to check a couple of times just to make sure that I hadn’t accidentally picked up a copy of Voodoo for Dummies. I like Esther’s voice as narrator and for a while there in the middle it kind of got lost. I enjoyed the secondary character of aging wiseguy Lucky Battistuzzi in Doppelgangster and he doesn’t appear in Unsympathetic Magic, which I felt was a missed opportunity, as Esther is still singing for her supper at Bella Stella. Lucky is apparently holidaying in Sicily during this book, so that gave me hope that he may reappear in the future. Max didn’t seem anywhere near as funny this time around. Biko and Puma were needed, but they were rather generic, to use a film term they felt like they came right out of central casting. I also picked the villain far too early, and I’m not normally good at that, so Ms Resnick must have really telegraphed her punches.

On the good side of the ledger, I liked Jeff, the snarky, ex-boyfriend, he was a refreshing change from the too good to be true Conor Lopez, although I doubt he’ll return. Lopez got a bit more depth, he actually lost his temper with Esther (something that would have happened a lot earlier if he were a real person) and a mystery arose around him that will hopefully be explored further. I can’t find anything that specifically refers to Laura Resnick having ever been involved with the film or TV world, although her father (respected and prolific SFF author Mike Resnick) has written a number of works that were filmed, so that may account for her apparent in depth knowledge of the workings of a TV show. Esther’s descriptions of filming on Dirty Thirty certainly hinted at some familiarity with the industry. I also liked the character of the show’s narcissistic star; Mike Nolan. Esther’s an amusing and engaging heroine so I will follow her adventures with Vamparazzi, due out later this year. Towards the end of Unsympathetic Magic Esther was pressuring her agent Thackeray ‘Thack’ Shackleton (another peripheral character I’d like to know more about and see more of) to get her a role in a play called Vampyre, so that leads nicely into the upcoming book.

On a side note and continuing the TV show talk I could see this series making an entertaining show. It’d be better than most of the dross that audiences get served up.

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