Series: NIGHT OWLS
Plot Type: Urban Fantasy (UF) with elements of Horror
Ratings: Violence—4; Sensuality—1; Humor—2-3
Publisher and Titles: Ace
Night Owls (3/2014)
NOVEL 2: Grave Matters
Other characters are also having problems: Justin is trying to adjust to being a mixed-breed supernatural creature—Jackal (Creep) and vampire. Chaz is feeling inadequate because he is now the weakest human in the gang. Val is having trouble keeping herself from hunting down humans. And then we have Lia and Sunny, the succubi couple, who are worried that their former demon master will find them and force them to return to him. The emotional and relationship problems of the cast members are detrimental to the pace of the plot because each time one of their stories takes over the narrative, their personal problems tend to overwhelm the investigational details related to the primary plot. Authors generally deal with the personal problems of secondary characters by taking them on one at a time—mentioning specific problems of a character in passing in one book and then concentrating on that character in an ensuing book so that, book by book, each character gets a turn in the spotlight, and the primary plot doesn't get overwhelmed by an excess of sideline story threads.
The main plot revolves around a necromancer who is raising the dead in Crow's Neck, the run-down neighborhood in which Cavale and Elly live. As the book opens, a young neighbor asks for Elly's help in getting rid of a ghost in her house. When Elly investigates, she finds and kills a ghoul (an animated corpse) that has a strange dagger-shaped sigil drawn on its arm. Soon, more ghouls turn up with the sigil and then some vampires—all under the control of the unidentified necromancer. In a secondary story line that eventually connects with the main plot, a band of Irish vampires threatens Ivanov's sovereignty in Southy (South Boston).
The previous novel was written from three points of view (POV): Elly, Chaz, and Val. This novel adds Cavale to the POV list. Sometimes the point of view switches mid-chapter, and that can make the story-telling seem disjointed.
Although the author has come up with a decent plot, her execution is weak. The reader has no way to figure out who is behind all of the violence and necromancy because there are no clues in the narrative. What happens is that every once in awhile a character—usually Elly—will stop and summarize what's happening by leaping to conclusions based on little or no evidence or logic. The result is an action-filled story in which the good guys run around fighting various battles without knowing exactly what's going on until one of them goes into know-all-tell-all mode, at which time they all believe him or her and continue bumbling along until someone makes the next major pronouncement.
Although the story is fast paced, the plot lacks structure and has several bumpy spots. For example, the author spends a lot of page space on Val and Chaz's evaluation of the huge library in the home that belonged to Henry and Helen (the couple murdered by the Creeps in Night Owls), but that library provides only a single clue for the necromancer case. At one point, one of the ghouls turns up at the house, throwing books around in one of the book-filled rooms, but the reason for the ghoul's presence is never fully explained. Justin rescues Chaz from said ghoul, and we never hear any more about why the ghoul was there. If the ghoul was looking for a specific book, how would the necromancer (the one controlling the ghoul) have known that Henry owned that book. This detail is ever addressed. This is not the only bump—it's just an example.
To sum it up: This book is weaker than the first book, primarily because the author stuffed so much unnecessary character-related narrative into a book that is only 294 pages long. What the book needs is a better plot structure, one that plays out with a gradual build-up of clues and evidence that gives the reader a chance to figure out what's going on. When a book relies on unsubstantiated sum-it-up passages by the main character, it means that the author didn't spend enough time planning ahead. On the author's web site, she admits to being a "pantser," but she really should have been more of a planner when she wrote this book. To read an excerpt from Grave Matters, click HERE to go to the book's Amazon.com page and click on the cover art.
> Eleanor (Elly) Garrett: She was raised by Father Value, a renegade Brother who was thrown out of the Brotherhood after he tried to use fighting methods that they didn't condone. Elly always thought that she was an orphan, but she learns differently in book 1. She learned all sorts of magical skills during her years with Father Value, and consequently, she is a skilled fighter, both with her weapons and her magic. Elle is 23 years old.
> Cavale: He is a powerful warlock, also raised by Father Value and is a few years older than Elly. He walked away from Father Value and Elly when he couldn't stomach Father Value's indifference to sacrificing the lives of innocents if those deaths meant that he could kill more Monsters.
> Valerie (Val) McTeague: A vampire born in the 1940s, she spent much of her life as a Hunter, but left after a battle with a nest of Creeps from which she emerged as the only survivor. Currently, she owns Night Owls, a book store in Edgewood.
> Charles (Chaz): He is Val's sardonic, slacker Renfield and is also secretly in love with her. Chaz is not like the original Renfield in Bram Stoker's novel. He is Val's personal assistant, works as the manager of Night Owls, and handles all of her daytime affairs. She does not drink his blood, and he does not want to become a vampire (at least not in book 1). Most of the humor comes in the verbal interaction between Chaz and Val and between Chaz and various book-store patrons and workers.