Saturday, January 19, 2013

Dead Spots – review

Author: Melissa F Olson

First published: 2012

Contains spoilers

The Blurb: Scarlett Bernard knows about personal space: step within ten feet of her, and any supernatural spells or demonic forces are instantly defused—vampires and werewolves become human again, and witches can’t get out so much as a “hocus pocus.” This special skill makes her a null and very valuable to Los Angeles’s three most powerful magical communities, who utilize her ability to scrub crime scenes clean of all traces of the paranormal to keep humanity, and the LAPD, in the dark.

But one night Scarlett’s late arrival to a grisly murder scene reveals her agenda and ends with LAPD’s Jesse Cruz tracking her down to strike a deal: he’ll keep quiet about the undead underworld if she helps solve the case. Their pact doesn’t sit well with Dash, the city’s chief bloodsucker, who fears his whole vampire empire is at stake. And when clues start to point to Scarlett, it’ll take more than her unique powers to catch the real killer and clear her name.

The Review: Dead Spots is an urban fantasy and one that, for the most part, eschews the blurring with paranormal romance – a fact for which I am grateful.

Set in Los Angeles, it is a city where two worlds sit side by side – our world and the Old World. The Old World is made up of (urban) witches, werewolves and vampires and is hidden, for the most part, from human view.

That is where Scarlett comes in. She is a null and she dampens Old World magic. The vampires become human, vulnerable and begin to age, wolves transform back into their human selves and spells are nothing more than mumbled words. She is employed to help hide supernatural accidents and crimes – kind of a paranormal woman in black.

The idea of the null is good but not entirely original – such a creature exists in the steampunk world of the parasol protectorate. The main difference here is that Scarlett has a field, whereas in the other series the effect is by touch. Of course this world is less fantastical.

The vampire lore was pretty much standard, vampires are dead during the day (I was unsure by the end if they would also burn in sunlight but suspect that is the case) and destruction of the heart will kill them. Silver and garlic are simply minor irritants and holy artefacts have no effect. Their hair and nails continue to grow and they have eye mojo. For some reason turns are becoming less and less certain, but ingestion of vampire blood is necessary. Sometimes a vampire will be turned with an automatic boost to their power, most develop power as they age.

What I liked about this – beyond the fact that Olson’s primary character is absolutely flawed and damaged – is in the style of the writing. Most urban fantasy is written first person and it does become a tad wearisome. Whilst Olson does have first person, from Scarlett’s point of view, she also has chapters in third person, following LA Cop Jesse, and this added a dimension often lost in this particular sub-genre.

There isn’t really a massive good or evil element to this, more shades of grey, which was refreshing also. I think that making vampire head honcho Dashiell’s original persona John Polidori and suggesting that a vampiric Clare Clairmont gave Stoker the information for Dracula was perhaps a little hokey, but that was just a coda thing. This is a solid volume and might prove a nice entry into the arena of urban fantasy. 7 out of 10.

A cut down version of this review first appeared on Amazon UK.

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