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Saturday, October 6, 2012

Tate Hallaway: PRECINCT 13 SERIES

Author:  Tate Hallaway (aka Lyda Morehouse)  
Series:  PRECINCT 13  
Plot Type:  Urban Fantasy
Ratings:  V3; S3; H3
Publisher and Titles:  Berkley
          Precinct 13 (8/2012)

     In this world, the supernatural community exists alongside the human community (aka the ordinarium), but most ordinarium don't know that the magical world exists. Only the top government officials know what's really going on. In Pierre, North Dakota, the law enforcement arm of the supernaturals is a very special part of the police department called Precinct 13. The staff of Precinct 13 includes everything from fairies to psychometrists to a vampire-werewolf hybridand much more.

     There are two types of magic in this mythology: natural and unnatural. Here, one of the characters explains the difference: "The distinction is really very straightforward. If you think of power as a river, natural magic uses the existing currents. If you go against the flow, you're tapping into the unnatural....the energy itself is neutral and what matters is how you use it. But it's actually quite possible for a practitioner to use natural magic for evil purposes, and vice versa." (pp. 65-66) So...although unnatural practitioners aren't necessarily evil, many natural practitioners are extremely prejudiced against unnatural practitioners. They consider certain types of supernaturals to be inherently unnaturallike vampires and golemsand are not inclined to give them the benefit of the doubt as to their motives.

     The series heroine is Alex Connor, who has spent much of her life under psychiatric care and under the influence of anti-psychotic drugs because she has always been able to see magical creatures like fairies, trolls, and gargoyles. When she accused her step-mother of being a demon (which, by the way, is literally true), she asked her boyfriend, Valentine, to help subdue her. After the demonic step-mother fought off Valentine's attack, he went to jail and she was bundled off to a locked psychiatric ward. Now, Alex has moved away from her Chicago home to take a position as the coroner in Pierre, South Dakotawhich makes this the very first paranormal novel I've ever read that is set in either one of the Dakotas.

     Hallaway also wrote the vampire romance series, GARNET LACEY. Here is the reading order:

          1. Tall, Dark and Dead (2006)
          2. Dead Sexy (2007)
          3. Romancing the Dead (2008)
          4. Dead If I Do (2009)
          5. Honeymoon of the Dead (2010)

          BOOK 1:  Precinct 13          
     As the story opens, Alex has been on the job in Pierre for a few months, with not much to do. Pierre is small enough that there are not many deaths that must be dealt with by the coroner. Then one day, two police officers bring her a body that they claim is that of a necromancer and warn her not to crack his chest when she does the autopsy. Alex fears that they have discovered her psychiatric history and are playing a prank on her, but then the body comes back to life and walks out of the morgue. In the process, a black snake emerges from the corpse's chest cavity and melts into Alex's arm as a seemingly sentient tattoo .

     When Alex reports the strange disappearance of the corpse to the chief of police, he sends her off to Precinct 13, where she learns that she is probably a witch, that her lifelong "over imagination" was actually not imaginary, and that she will now become an integral part of Pierre's magical community. For Alex, the most shocking thing about her introduction to Precinct 13 is the fact that everyone believes her story about the walking corpse and her attestation that another corpse in the morgue spoke to her. No one (except Valentine) has ever believed Alex, so even though she is somewhat confused about the whole notion that magic really exists, she has relatively positive feelings about her new colleagues.

     When the corpse came back to life and the snake melted into her arm, Alex was so shocked that she called Valentine for the first time since he went to jail for his assault on her step-mother. Valentine immediately comes to Pierre, where he has a shocking effect on Alex's new colleagues at Precinct 13. As it turns out, Valentine is more than a boyfriendand more than a human.

     The action plot follows Alex and the magical cops as they attempt to solve two crimes: the necromancer's disappearance (and a related zombie infestation) and a cow mutilation incident. Woven through this plot is an angsty romance thread in which Alex wants Valentine to love her for herself, not out of a feeling of duty.

     Although this series definitely has a fresh and inventive premise, the story seems to begin in the middle, and it never fills in some critical knowledge gaps. This is a book that could have benefited from a Prologue to establish some background information. I'm not an advocate for information dumps as a method of explaining mythology, but an author should make sure that the reader has enough character history to feel comfortable with the story line. As I read the early chapters, I felt as if I had missed reading a prequel novella. 

     Another problem with the story is that it is filled with improbabilities. For example, although Alex is the newand very younggirl in town and has absolutely no experience in law enforcement, she takes the lead in the investigation, leaving the trained law enforcement officers in the dust.

     In another instance, Alex discovers key information about one character very early in the story but never tells anyone about it. This type of plot manipulation is one of my personal pet peeves. It is an overused, lazy, artificial device that never, ever enhances the story line. In this case, it is eventually explained away as some kind of magical influence, but if that's true, why does Alex remember to disclose the info at just the right time to move the plot along? 

     Most of the characters are not fullyor even partiallydeveloped. In fact, Alex is the only one who has a backstory. Towards the end, we learn a few facts about Spenser Jones, the fairy prince who leads Precinct 13, but not enough to give us any insight into his character. As this series develops, I hope that the character development will improve, especially in the case of Valentine, whom we never really get to know at all. I'll keep reading the series in the hope that the plots and the characterization improve.

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