Only the most recent posts pop up on the HOME page. For searchable lists of titles/series reviewed on this Blog, click on one of the Page Tabs above. On each Page, click on the series name to go directly to my review.

AUTHOR SEARCH lists all authors reviewed on this Blog. CREATURE SEARCH groups all of the titles/series by their creature types. The RATINGS page explains the violence, sensuality, and humor (V-S-H) ratings codes found at the beginning of each Blog review and groups all titles/series by their Ratings. The PLOT TYPES page explains the SMR-UF-CH-HIS codes found at the beginning of each Blog review and groups all titles/series by their plot types. On this Blog, when you see a title, an author's name, or a word or phrase in pink type, this is a link. Just click on the pink to go to more information about that topic.

Monday, August 20, 2012


Author:  Vicki Pettersson 
Plot Type:  Noir FictionRomantic Horror
Ratings:  Violence5; Sensuality4; Humor2-3
Publisher and Titles:  Harper Voyager
        The Taken (6/2012)
        The Lost (3/2013)
        The Given (5/2014) (FINAL)  

This post was revised and updated on 6/25/14 to include a review of The Given, the third and FINAL novel in the trilogy. Appearing first is an overview of the series world-building followed by reviews of the three novels. 

     The supernaturals in this world are angels, but they share many of the same emotions and frustrations as human beings. According to this mythology, when a person dies, he or she goes through an incubation period during which all memories of earthly life are wiped away. After the memory wipe, the now-angel goes on to the Everlast (i.e., heaven, paradise, kingdom come, cloud 9take your pick).

     Problematically, the incubation doesn't always work, and angels who maintain their memories are pressed into service as celestial Centurionsangels who assist the recently deceased at the beginning of their journey into the Everlast. The Centurions are "the losers. The few murdered souls that incubation couldn't cure. Still tethered to the Surface by memory and regret, they were pressed into assisting others to cross into the Everlast. The idea was that helping others would relieve their mental anguish. Then they, too, would be able to enter Paradise proper." (p. 48) People who die young and/or violently have the most trouble getting into Everlast because they find it so difficult to give up their emotional ties to their mortal lives.

     The series hero is Griffin (Grif) Shaw, who was a private investigator (PI) back in the 1950s until he was murdered along with his beautiful wife, Evie. Grif's memories of Evie are still very clear and extremely painful, and no amount of incubation has been able to wipe them away. As a result, Griffin has been a Centurion for the past 60 years, and not a very successful one. Grif crudely describes his Centurion duties as "Secure the Take. Clean 'em up. Bring 'em home." (The "Take" is the deceased.)

     This is an inventive mythology, with its grumpy angels and hard-luck hero who is forced to deal with his mortality sixty years after he thought that he was through with it for good. CELESTIAL BLUES tries hard to be classic noir fiction, in which "the protagonist is usually not a detective, but instead either a victim, a suspect, or a perpetrator. He is someone tied directly to the crime, not an outsider called to solve or fix the situation. Other common characteristics...are the emphasis on sexual relationships and the use of sex to advance the plot and the self-destructive qualities of the lead characters. This type of fiction also has...lean, direct writing style and...gritty realism." (George Tuttle, Mystery Scene magazine, 1994) It comes close (even has many characters smoking their lungs out, which seems improbable in today's cancer-conscious world), but it doesn't quite make the cut, mostly due to plot holes and characterization problems.

                      NOVEL 1:  The Taken                      
     In the opening scene, Grif is sent to a sleazy Las Vegas motel to pick up his  latest Take, investigative reporter Nicole Rockwell, who was murdered when she went undercover as a hooker to investigate a prostitution ring involving some of Sin City's most influential movers and shakers. According to this mythology, the clothes that you die in are the clothes that you wear for eternity, so Nicole begs Griffin to let her change out of her skimpy hooker outfit and into her regular clothes. Griffin agrees, andagainst all the rulesbrings her back to life for a few moments so that she can accomplish that task. Unfortunately, Nicole tricks Griffin by scribbling something in her notebook before Grif makes her dead again, and that tiny note changes everything for Grif and for Katherine (Kit) Craig, Nicole's best friend, who is waiting for Nicole in the motel parking lot. As Nicole finally heads off to the Everlast, a powerful Pure angel named Anas intervenes. She harshly reprimands Grif for allowing Nicole to come back to life and rips off Grif's wings, making him mortal again and blocking him from returning to the Everlast. Then, Grif's supervising angel (whom he calls Sarge) shows up to give Grif the rest of the bad news. Grif's misstep with Nicole has altered fate, ensuring that Kit will die violently and that Grif will feel her death as if it were his own. Grif has to face the fact that if he hadn't broken the rules for Nicole, Kit would not be facing imminent death.

     As Grif tries to accustom himself to being human again, he decides to make the best of a bad situation by investigating his and Evie's deaths. Even more important, he is determined to defy Sarge and Anas and save Kit's life. These are the two main plot lines. After Grif saves Kit from the first round of attacks on her life, the two team up to track down Nicole's killer, uncover the identities of the men behind the prostitution ring, and solve the mystery of Evie's death. At first, Kit believes that Evie must be Grif's grandmother because she died so long ago, but eventually Grif tells Kit all about his angel situation. Predictably, Kit thinks that Grif is having some kind of hallucinatory breakdown, but by this time she's already started to fall for him, so they keep up their investigation. As their mutual attraction grows stronger, the attacks on both their lives grow more intense, and clues begin to accumulate. Now all they need is some solid evidence. The plot spirals down into a sickening series of violent acts against women by a series of men who are portrayed as heartlessly cruel, misogynistic bullies.

     Handsome but hapless Grif is the typical dark, angst-filled noir hero of 1950s detective stories, and dauntless, quirky Kit is the prototypical girl reporter whose characterization traces back to the 1940s comic strip, Brenda Starr. Unfortunately, their lack of depth makes them both come off as cardboard stereotypes. They do make a likely match, though, because Kit revels in the rockabilly world of retro clothing and entertainment from the 1950s, while Grif is the genuine article. In fact, he's still wearing the suit and fedora that he was wearing the night he died all those many years ago. The whole rockabilly concept doesn't quite work as an ongoing characterization device, probably because it seems more like an applied artificiality than a real lifestyle that would be adopted so completely by a supposedly mature woman. Kit smokes 50-year-old Gauloises, always wears retro clothes, drives a Duetto, lives amongst her 1950s decor, etc. On the other hand, Kit's police detective friend is also a rockabilly, but he saves it for his leisure time, which is much more believable. 

     The anti-Mormon, anti-male action plot is very disturbing and extremely violent. Ninety percent of the men in this book are total scumbags, and many of the women are perpetual victims. It's an uncomfortable story to read, even though you always know deep down that the bad guys will eventually get their just punishment. The plot has a number of holes, which I can't discuss here because I don't want to give away any spoilers, but I will tell you that they definitely weaken the resolution of both the primary and the secondary conflicts. In the end, the final outcome of Grif's problematic situation with Sarge and Anas seems implausible and rushed and comes very close to being a unicorn-and-rainbows kind of ending. The supporting characters are, for the most part, interesting and quirky. The one ringer is an ex-hooker cosmetologist who pontificates like a doctoral candidate in philosophy. So far, this is a series with a promising premise but a disappointing delivery. Click HERE to read chapter one of The Taken.  

                      NOVEL 2:  The Lost                        
     As the story opens, Grif and Kit are living together in a relatively happy romantic relationshipexcept for the fact that Grif is still obsessed with finding out who killed him and his wife, Evie, 50 years ago. Grif has been given Heavenly permission to stay on Earth and solve the mystery of his death, but there are some angels who aren't completely on board with this decision, particularly when they see that he has fallen in love with Kit. Each time Grif calls out Evie's name during his frequent nightmares about the night of his murder, Kit can't help but wonder if Grif will ever love her as much as he loves/loved Evie. Their complicated relationship is front and center throughout the entire story, all the way to the bittersweet ending. 

     At the end of the previous book, Grif regained some, but not all, of his angelic characteristics. As he explains, "I'm both ageless and clothed in mortal flesh....I have free will like all humans, but am still bound to the Everlast. In short, Purity lives in me, even though it shouldn't." Grif is still getting assignments from his angelic supervisor, Sarge, to approach dying victims of violent deaths and Take their souls to the Everlast. Whenever Grif gets a Take assignment, Kit is furious that he won't try to save the victim. Sometimes she tries to get to the victim before Grif does, believing that her intervention might save that person's life. Unfortunately, Kit's "savior" missions always end badly, usually with Kit having to be rescued from severe injury or death. Kit has always been a character who automatically jumps into action without a plan and without a single thought about the consequences of her actionshence the high number of her TSTL moments. Kit wants things both ways: She wants to be an independent woman who can take care of herself, even in the dangerous situations she puts herself into, but she also wants Grif always to be there to protect her, even though she sometimes sneaks away to do things that he has warned her stay away from.  

     The action part of the story involves three villains: one supernatural and two human. The supernatural bad guy is Scratch, a fallen angel who feeds on negative emotions and steals souls. Scratch homes in on Kit's bright and shining soul and informs her that he plans to corrupt and destroy her purity and take her soul into the Eternal Forest (i.e., Hell). The two human villains each head up rival drug-dealing crime syndicates. When young drug addicts begin to die horrible deaths from the effects of a new and fatal drug, Kit is determined to investigate the cases and write some scathing stories for her aunt's newspaper. Grif is terrified that Scratch will make good on his threat to destroy Kit, so he does his best to protect her in between Sarge's soul-Taking assignments. As their investigation moves along, an old friend of Kit's is back on the scene. That would be Detective Dennis Carlisle, who would be very happy to take over Grif's position as Kit's boyfriend.

     Although the heavy emphasis on Kit's extreme rockabilly lifestyle can become annoying, it becomes more understandable after she explains the reasons for her retro choice: "Her entree into the rockabilly lifestyle had not only come at a time when her life had lacked'd lacked life....Kit vowed to let nothing into her life that didn't make at least one of her senses explode. Every bit of furniture adorning her home was carefully considered....Even the food she put in her body had to be wanted more than needed. Kit didn't want merely to be sustained. She didn't want only to exist...Those who didn't know her thought only that she wanted to live in the past. What they couldn't know was that the rockabilly lifestyle actually simplified things for her in a way that someone driven by the latest fashions and fads couldn't enjoy. Having set lifestyle parameters took the angst out of deciding what car to drive or how to dress. Wouldn't the masses be amazed to learn that, in living an extreme lifestyle, Kit was actually playing it safe?" 

     All in all, I'd say that this book is a step up from the first one. Even with the predictability of the drug plot outcome (the true villain's identity is telegraphed early on), this story has compelling action and a gut-wrenching ending that will have you counting the days until book 3. Click HERE to read chapter one of The Lost.

                      NOVEL 3:  The Given                      
     Six months have passed since Griffin Shaw and Katherine (Kit) Craig broke up, and both are miserable. Grif has been making half-hearted attempts to find his wife, Evie, but mostly he's been secretly watching over Kit. Meanwhile, Kit has gone into a depression so deep that her friends are worried about both her mental and physical health. Then, Griffin's angelic boss, Sarge, drags Grif off for a conference, reminding him that Grif is the very first angelic humanthe first to possess both angelic power and free will at the same time. Sarge also reveals that the Almighty punished him for tricking Kit into leaving Grif (in a heart-breaking scene in The Lost) and that part of his punishment is to feel all of Kit's emotional pain. During Grif's meeting with Sarge, a Seraph arrives to announce to Grif that "You have been found guilty of violating the conditions of your unprecedented return to the Surface, and failing to actively pursue your true purpose on earth" (finding his wife]. At this point, Grif receives a miracle that occurs almost immediately and a prophecy that has a finite deadline date, both of which drive the rest of the story. Sarge plays a major role in this book, even though he appears in only a few scenes.

     In chapter four, Grif and Kit finally see each other again when their paths cross unexpectedly at a grisly murder scene. From that point on, the serpentine plot slithers on a circuitous route through a huge cast of suspects, victims, and red herrings. They work together to find Evie, but both are constantly under attack by mob-connected thugs with ties to decades-old feuds, murders, and betrayals. Eventually though, all questions are answered, all issues are resolved, and all villains get their just desserts in a satisfactory manner. Most importantly, we get to see exactly what happened on that fateful night 50 years ago. That climactic scene provides answers to the major questions that have driven the series story arc: Who killed Griffin Shaw? Why was he was killed? What happened to Evie?

     I can't begin to go into the labyrinthine plot, partly because it's too complex, but mostly because I don't want to spoil your fun as you work it out for yourself. You'll find yourself saying, "That person did it" in one chapter and then saying, "No, that other person did it" in the next. Because there are multiple villains in this series, you have to be on the look-out for clues to more than one crime. Pettersson has done a masterful job in her plotting, even though I did sometimes get the Italian mobsters mixed up. 

     Grif and Kit have an angst-filled road to travel in this book as Kit vows to help Grif find Eve no matter how much it hurts her own feelings, and Grif realizes that being with Kit is more important than his five-decades-long search for his wife. Both face some hard facts about their lives and make decisions that will forever change them. The finale tips slightly toward unicorns and rainbows, but it's still satisfying to see that truth and faith win in the end. This has been a terrific series with a fresh mythology, interesting characters, and an intriguing story arc. I wish more authors would go the trilogy route. Click HERE to read an excerpt on the page for The Given. Just click on the artwork at top left on that page.

No comments:

Post a Comment