Paranormal Scene Investigations
By Laura Anne Gilman
May 2010; Luna Books
329 pages; Price $14.95
Reviewed by Marianne Plumridge – January 2011
Bonita Torres is a magic user, a Talent, born to an itinerant Lonejack father and brought up and mentored by a member of the Council. She is both and neither. One of Bonnie’s feet is still in the world of lone wolf magic users and their sense of wild justice, while the other is firmly within the community of ‘Council’ with all of their ambiguous elite rules and mores. It’s very easy to feel like an outsider. However, three months out from college graduation with a good resume and a bag full of mixed talent and some unusual experiences using such, isn’t getting her anywhere. J, her Mentor, had been paying for her studies and upkeep since she was 8 years old, but Bonnie is itching to prove herself, stand on her own two feet, and find her own life. Unfortunately, of all the resumes and interviews she’d sent out or been on, nobody else seemed to know what to do with her either. Frustrated, panicky and feeling out of sorts in the Big Apple, Bonnie receives a voicemail message that sounds…interesting. It wasn’t anyone she’d contacted about a job…but they firmly indicated that she should come for the interview anyway. Trying to scrye for some information about the forthcoming encounter leaves her with a pounding heart and shattered crystal all over her hotel bed, the loud ‘No Cheating’ rebuke still ringing in her skull.
Four disparate personalities await Bonnie at THE interview and she’s somewhat disappointed to find competition in the offing. But nothing is what it appears at first glance and neither are the Talented rivals. Pietr, a decorative young man who smells like trouble and can fade out at will; Sharon, an elegant, blond paralegal who can detect even the whiff of a lie and becomes the on the spot paramedic when needed; Nick “Nifty” Lawrence, a gifted footballer who would prefer to use his brains and Talent rather than brawn; and the other Nick, the one whose demeanor screams ‘nerd’ who has his own strange gift of ‘hacking’. All have personality issues and attitudes, all are far deeper and more complicated than their surface facades suggest. Working together is not going to be easy.
The interviewer is dead…and that is the first test. The five twenty-something kids are hired en masse as a unit for something called P.U.P.I – Private, Unaffiliated, Paranormal Investigations. A team of Talents using magic in a Forensic CSI fashion to collect evidence from death/crime scenes to determine if a crime was committed and if Talent was involved. There has never been anything like it in the recorded history of all mage talented communities, but it is direly needed in spite of denial and sometimes violent opposition. The Talented are dying in mysterious ways that look like suicides or accidents but leave a major question mark that no one – Null or Talent – can answer. Enter P.U.P.I – five fractious “puppies” with secrets and skills of their own, hired, shaped, and lead by two “Guys”: heavyweight Talents, Benjamin Venec and Ian Stoller who are also referred to as ‘the big dogs’ by their protégés. They are not enforcers of any kind, but the creed is to be true to the evidence found and present it to clients and Council alike to be dealt with. What follows for Bonnie, Nick, Nifty, Sharon, and Pietr is a strenuous rollercoaster ride of bootcamp magic learning and stretching that encompasses explosions, implosions, finicky electrical reactions, and blowups strangely reminiscent of ‘Mythbusters’ experimentalism, being shot at, a sibling tantrum of epic proportions, and a professional killer for hire who is as silent and slippery as silk. None of them will ever be the same afterward.
Bonnie hires on in spite of her Mentor’s horrified opposition, both as father figure and leading Council figure. Being a member of P.U.P.I is something that appeals to Bonnie’s sense of ‘making a difference’, hearkening back to the secret hunt for her father’s murderer: something that only she, her Mentor and a cave dragon up in the Adirondacks knows anything about – or so she has always assumed. Unable to see the search through to a natural conclusion of catching and revealing the killer, Bonnie instead had to bury her knowledge along with her frustration. All of the information and evidence of the crime she had gathered – culled inch by agonizing inch – came to naught. There was no way to act on it or take it to any existing enforcement authority that would believe her. The magic using community she belongs to, the Cosa Nostradamus, has no formal way of policing its society. It’s never needed to…till now. Bonnie’s tenacity, dual understanding of both Lonejack and Council sides of the Cosa Nostradamus and her own very real talents, coupled with a strong, innate need to know, working in harness with likeminded others might assuage some of the residual guilt and frustration. It might also fine tune some of those desperation-forged skills from her past and put them to good use. It isn’t easy, it’s bone wearying, mind numbingly hard. And there are consequences and disasters awaiting the missteps and personal mistakes of all of them. Add to that the effect Ben Venec has on Bonnie physically and mentally, and the complications just get weirder. His mental voice is familiar from past events and secrets, and she isn’t sure whether that is coloring her perception of him and the resultant upheavals inside her core and mind.
Bonnie has a remarkably tenacious Talent for detailed recall which is why she finds herself up front and center ‘recording’ things and people who are of interest and whilst investigating crime scenes and objects. Nick, Sharon, Nifty and Pietr have their own unique abilites – just as strong as hers – but it’s up to Ben and Ian to blend them into a coherent, fully integrated synergy. By the end of this story, that binding takes shape under extreme duress: a full on deadly attack from the assassin.
This is a brilliant book by veteran author, Laura Anne Gilman. It is tightly woven and fast paced with crisp, clean language that defines the characters and situations more so than overly-descriptive prose would. Ms Gilman inhabits the Cosa Nostradamus universe she has created with confident depth and wisdom and a creativity that some longtime authors might envy. The character of Bonnie Torres emerged as a secondary player in Ms Gilman’s other Cosa Nostradamus universe series ‘THE RETRIEVERS” only to be given a larger voice and place of her own in this powerful debut to a new series of novels. For a series, it is. The sequel to ‘HARD MAGIC’, ‘PACK OF LIES’, is now available. And I am very much looking forward to reading it. Very well done Ms Gilman…I couldn’t put this book down…
Labels: Forensic Magic, Laura Anne Gilman, Paranormal fiction, paranormal mystery, PSI