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Wednesday, November 3, 2010


Author:  Laura Resnick
Plot Type:  Light & Humorous Urban Fantasy (UF)
Ratings:  Violence4, Sensuality3, Humor3-4
Publisher and Titles:  DAW
       Disappearing Nightly (12/2005; reissued—6/2012)
       Doppelgängster (5/2010)
       Unsympathetic Magic (7/2010)
       Vamparazzi (10/2011)
       Polterheist (11/2012)
       The Misfortune Cookie (11/2013) 
       Abracadaver (11/2014)
       Goldzilla (2015)

     This post was revised and updated on 12/11/14 to include a review of Abracadaver, the seventh novel in the series. That review appears first, followed by an overview of the world-building and reviews of the first six novels.

               NOVEL 7:  Abracadaver                
     Here is an annotated list of the main characters in this book:  
   > Esther Diamond: the series heroine, a wannabe actress and part-time waitress in New York City
   > Connor Lopez: Esther's true love, a detective for the NYPD's Organized Crime Control Bureau
   > Andrew Quinn: Lopez's new partner
   > Max Zadok: a 300-year-old fighter who uses mystical powers to overcome Evil
   > Nelli: Max's gigantic, mystical, magical dog, who is also a fighter against Evil
   > Lucky Battistuzzi: a friend of Esther and Max; a quirky mobster who manages to stay out of jail
   > John Chen:handsome Chinese American biochemist who works in his family's mortuary business and who wants to date Esther

     This novel begins just about an hour after the previous book ended. Esther, Max, and Lucky are still in Chinatown, where the Yee family's store is still burning. Lopez hasn't yet confronted Esther about breaking his patrol car's window so that she could grab a cursed fortune cookie before it killed him (of course he won't believe that for a minute). Just as Esther, Max, Lucky, and Nelli head for home, John Chen calls them back to his family's funeral home, claiming that one of the cadavers in the mortuary just got up and walked away from its slab. That event kicks off the magical cadaver plot of this novel.

     Max soon hypothesizes that a demon is involved in the case of the walking corpse, but it takes more investigation for the group to figure out that the demon in question is occupying the body of Quinn, Lopez's new partner. We knew that something was weird about Quinn because Nelli growled and barked at him in the previous book. Ever since Quinn partnered with Lopez, their radios and cell phones have been constantly on the fritz and their cars keep breaking down. Additionally, Quinn is in a perpetually sour, bitter mood, and that has been rubbing off on Lopez, who is already angry and confused over Esther's "magical" shenanigans.

     As usual, the plot takes several twists and turns as Esther, Max, and Lucky strategize on how to get the demon out of Quinn's body. Then, a Chinese tong leader gets into the act when he vows vengeance on the police officers who may have driven his uncle to suicide
or perhaps they even murdered him.

     Needless to say, the action is fast-paced and loopy as the magic-believers keep coming up against the magic nay-sayers and are forced to pretend that everything is normal, even when an elderly Chinese lady-corpse jumps up off a mortuary table and attacks Esther. 

     This is really an anti-romance novel because Esther and Lopez are at odds throughout the story, never able to communicate their true feelings of love because Esther keeps trying to explain that curses and demons are real and dangerous while Lopez always counters with more of his anti-magic rants against Esther and her friends. Here, Lopez sums up their romantic history: "I tried to date you, and it didn't work…I tried to break up with you, and that didn't work, either. I tried to stay away, and I couldn't. I tried to get back together with you, and it was a mess." Esther has to admit that "That depressing summary…was an accurate account of our relationship." Will Lopez ever realize that he himself has magical powers? Will the pair ever get together? (They've been on only one actual date, and the single time they tried going to bed together, Esther's bed caught fire.) The book ends on a somber note, with no positive clues as to the future of their romance.

     I always enjoy these books because I love Esther as a character. I have to admit, though, that I'm getting tired of Lopez's he-man stubbornness. Maybe Esther needs to accept a date with John Shen just to shake things up a bit. The plots are always lively and filled with funny take-away lines, and the situation comedy is frequently hilarious (although there's not much hilarity in this particular book). If you've been enjoying the series thus far, I'm sure that you'll love this novel.

       Although Resnick carefully summarizes previous events so that any book in this series can be read as a stand-alone, I recommend that you read the books in chronological order because Esther's adventures are so much more fun when you get all of the wisecracking dialogue and meet the huge cast of quirky characters. Plus, you need to read all of the books to follow the really rocky romance between Esther and Lopez. Click HERE to read an excerpt from AbracadaverThe next bookGoldzillawill be set in an area known for its high level of EvilnessWall Street.

     Esther Diamond, the series heroine, is an aspiring actress in Manhattan. Between acting jobs, she works as a waitress. Esther is completely non-magical, but she stumbles into one supernatural adventure after another, wisecracking her way in and out of trouble. It's as if Resnick took Jenna Maroney (from 30 Rock) and gave her a bunch of supernaturally enhanced friends. Assisting, and sometimes leading, in Esther's adventures is Dr. Maximillian (Max) Zadok, a 350-year-old sorcerer who appears to be in his seventies. Max graduated from Oxford University (class of 1678), and he is a member of the Magnum Collegium, an organization of sorcerers who fight Evil in the world, "the great, dark, spiritual Evil which is forever in opposition to all that is compassionate and virtuous." (Disappearing Nightly, p. 105) The Collegium has sent Max on a sacred mission to confront Evil in New York City.

     Esther's love interest is straight-arrow NYPD detective Connor Lopez, who absolutely, positively does not believe in magic of any kind. Lopez seems to be a perfectly normal human being—right up until a strange incident at the climax of Doppelgängster and two more in Unsympathetic Magic, all of which he explains away logically.

     This is a fresh and inventive series that is filled with witty and side-splitting dialogue. Esther is a smart, brave, and feisty heroine who embraces the magical world. The supporting characters, particularly Max, add their own quirky humor to each book.

               NOVEL 1:  Disappearing Nightly               
     This out-of-print opening book has been reissued, so readers of the series can go back and catch up on Esther's life before she meets Lopez and Max. In this book, Esther has a job in the chorus of an off-off-off-Broadway play that features a magician whose culminating trick is to make the leading lady disappear. When that lady really does disappear one night, Esther moves up to take her place, but then learns that similar vanishing incidents are taking place all over town and that dark magic may be involved. Detective Connor Lopez investigates the case for the NYPD, and he and Esther are immediately attracted to one another. Then Esther gets some notes warning her not to get into the cage that is part of the disappearing act. The author of those notes is Max, who introduces an at-first unbelieving Esther into the world of sorcery. As magicians' assistants keep disappearing at the height of their acts, Esther and Max collect the now-hysterical magicians from each show and talk them into assisting in solving the case. The fact that one show includes a bevy of colorful drag queens adds even more humor to this story.  

     Wise-cracking humor and farcical situations abound in this light and fluffy adventure that eventually puts Esther and the vanished magicians' assistants in demonic danger. Connor, of course, does not believe any of the magical tales that Esther and Mex try to tell him, but he does maintain his attraction to Esther. You'll guess the identity of the villain well before the climax, but you'll enjoy the quirky characters and the laugh-out-loud humor so much that you won't really care.  To read an excerpt from Disappearing Nightly, click HERE to go to the book's page and click on the cover art.

               NOVEL 2:  Doppelgängster               
     Resnick summarizes the plot of Disappearing Nightly in the early pages of Doppelgängster, so this book can be read as a stand-alone. While Esther "rests" between acting jobs, she earns money by working as a singing waitress at Bella Stella, a mob-financed Italian restaurant, where she is on a first-name basis with many of the local wise guys. Then, one of the gangsters—Chubby Charlie Chiccante—is gunned down in front of her after seeing his doppelgänger, and Esther is drawn into yet another magical mystery. As more duplicate gangsters appear and bullets begin to fly, it's up to Esther, her friend Max, and Max's familiara huge (pony-sized) magical dog named Nelli—to save the day. Esther and her friends must fight Evil by stopping the gang war before it kills the wrong people. And if she has time, maybe Esther can actually keep a hot date with her hunky detective friend Lopez, who doesn't believe in magic. Yet.  

     The mobster dialogue is hilarious, particularly when one of them tries to school Max in mobster ways. Resnick expertly captures the self-satisfied arrogance of these Sopranos-style mobsters as they endlessly and uproariously insult and provoke one another. To read an excerpt from 
Doppelgängster, click HERE to go to the book's page and click on the cover art.

               NOVEL 3:  Unsympathetic Magic               
     Struggling actress Esther Diamond is outraged when her guest role as a hooker on the controversial TV drama The Dirty Thirty is jeopardized by zombies, angry spirits, and a voodoo curse. But will Esther's courage backfire and end up leading her to become a human sacrifice on the altar of the sinister supernatural powers that are taking over New York City?

     The explanations of voudou history and practice get a bit long-winded, and the plot is fairly transparent, but the snappy dialogue is funny, and the characters are interesting. So far, there have been no vamps or shape-shifters in this series, just sinister mortals using black magic, but who knows what kind of creatures will be after Esther next? To read an excerpt from Unsympathetic Magic, click HERE to go to the book's page and click on the cover art.

               NOVEL 4:  Vamparazzi               
     Vampires—that's the answer to the question posed at the end of the previous review. As Vamparazzi opens, Esther has a role in an off-Broadway play based on Dr. John Polidori's 19th century story entitled "The Vampyre." Daemon Ravel, the actor playing the vampire role, claims to be a real vampire, and he comes with all of the usual trimmings: pale skin, black clothing, blood drinking, coffin bed, and hordes of Goth-girl groupies, all of whom hate Esther because she gets to play a sexy love scene with Daemon. When one of the groupies turns up dead—exsanguinated in an abandoned subway tunnelDaemon is the chief suspect.

     Esther dumped Lopez at the end of the last book because she nearly got him killed several times, and she wouldn't be able to live with herself if she caused him further harm. After the groupie's murder, though, Lopez shows up in Esther's dressing room in his undercover detective's disguise, laying down some safety rules for Esther to follow so that she doesn't become the next victim. Although Esther and Lopez have a few romantic moments (including one really kinky vampiric scene), Esther is determined to keep her distance so that Lopez remains safe from the violence she seems to attract. Esther's gravitation to mayhem holds true in this adventure, as she winds up covered with bruises, abrasions, and bites. The plot includes a scandal-mongering reporter, three kinds of vampires, an ancient cult of European vampire hunters, and a wild scene in deserted tunnels under the streets of New York City. Max and his huge dog, Nelli, play key roles in the drama, as does Esther's agent, Thackeray Shackleton. In a lengthy flashback, we finally get the whole story about Max and the Lithuanians, which has been hinted at throughout the series.

     As usual, the quips fly fast and heavy and the action gets frenetic at times as Esther gets beaten up by vampire groupies, bitten by a fake vampire, and attacked by a real one. In the climactic tunnel scene, we are provided with yet another clue that Lopez has some kind of magical powers of which he may or may not be fully aware. This is a light and fluffy series that is fun to read. The action never stops, and the dialogue is hilarious. 

     This book has references to Polidori's story, "The Vampyre." Click HERE to read the full text of that story. Warning, the language gets kind of dense and flowery. Here are the first three sentences: "It happened that in the midst of the dissipations attendant upon a London winter, there appeared at the various parties of the leaders of the ton a nobleman, more remarkable for his singularities, than his rank. He gazed upon the mirth around him, as if he could not participate therein. Apparently, the light laughter of the fair only attracted his attention, that he might by a look quell it, and throw fear into those breasts where thoughtlessness reigned."  See what I mean? To read an excerpt from Vamparazzi, click HERE to go to the book's page and click on the cover art.

               NOVEL 5:  Polterheist               

     After the off-Broadway play, The Vampyre, folds at the end of book 4, Esther is left without a job just in time for the year-end holiday season. Luckily, she runs into her old friend, the drag-queen Satsy, who tips her off that Fenster & Company, a department store, is hiring elves to assist in their huge holiday display. As the story opens, Esther is tricked out in a skimpy outfit that gets her mistaken for a stripper as she handles a variety of festive tasks in the fourth floor Solsticeland/Christmas Village. Fenster's has gone all out for diversity this year, and Esther is a prime example: She's a Jewish elf, wearing the blue and white colors of the Israeli flag as she welcomes children by calling out, "Shalom" and singing Hanukkah songs. Her elf name is Dreidel

     Unfortunately, things aren't going smoothly at Fenster's this year. One by one, the seasonal employees—Santas and elves alike—have stopped coming to work. They don't even bother to give notice or return their costumes. Uh, Oh! This is beginning to sound suspicious! In the meantime, someone is hijacking Fenster's trucks and stealing their payloads of expensive holiday gift products. The dysfunctional Fenster family tries to keep the thefts secret, but one of the family members leaks it to the press, and mayhem ensues in the boardroom. When the police are finally called in to investigate the hijackings, guess who is assigned to interrogate the store employees? That's right—Detective Connor Lopez, Esther's ex-boyfriend. Esther is still crazy about Connor, but she continues to believe that she did the right thing by breaking up with him (even though she really, really misses him) because she kept putting his life in danger and feared that she would eventually get him killed. 

     As Christmas draws nearer, a series of strange and alarming events cause pandemonium to break out on the fourth floor. First, one of the Santas is attacked by a fiery monster in the freight elevator. Then, a mechanical singing tree wraps its branches around Esther's neck and tries to strangle her, and a mechanical karaoke bear attacks her. Meanwhile, more employees disappear.  

    As the trouble at Fenster's escalates, Esther brings Max into the investigation (without telling Connor) along with one of their mobster friends, and the trio gets into all sorts of trouble—just as they always do. Needless to say, Evil (with a capital "E") supernatural forces are at work here, and Max's primary job in Manhattan is to fight Evil. The climactic showdown scene comes on Christmas Eve, when an Ancient Evil almost succeeds in breaking through to the mortal realm—right in the middle of Fenster's holiday village.  

     In the midst of all of the troubling events at Fenster's, Esther has a disastrous introduction to Connor's parentsone that none of them will ever forget, and which his mother may never forgive. Eventually Esther and Connor get back together for one passionate night, but there is no certainty that their reunion will last. The romantic interlude has a cliff-hanger ending, so we'll have to keep on waiting to see if the two are meant to become a permanent couple.

     Each book in the series has a supernatural theme, and this one is no different. This time, we get lots of information on Saturnaliawinter solstice lunar eclipses, and poltergeistssometimes a little too much. But the rollicking pace keeps you glued to the page, as the humorous dialogue, wacky situations, and farcical slapstick scenes just keep on comingso fast that you're still chuckling about the last humorous bit when the next one hits. This isn't the strongest book in the series, but it's well worth reading. This book could be read as a stand-alone because Resnick provides high points from previous books that introduce the long-term supporting characters and the events that have crystallized their relationships. To read an excerpt from Polterheist, click HERE to go to the book's page and click on the cover art.

               NOVEL 6:  The Misfortune Cookie               

     After their one and only night of passionate on Christmas Eve, Esther's lover went off to work, leaving Esther in a state of blissful glow. Now, it's a full week laterand she has yet to hear from him. Yes, that's right, Connor Lopez, a detective for the NYPD's Organized Crime Control Bureau, took our intrepid heroine to bed and never called hernot a word from him since that fateful night. Esther has returned to her on-and-off singing-waitress job at  Bella Stella, the mob-financed Italian restaurant where she works when she is between acting jobs. As the book opens, Esther is trying to forget about her awful romantic situation by concentrating on the New Year's Eve festivities at the restaurant. Then, right in the middle of a big musical number at the stroke of midnight, the cops burst in and arrest all of the Gambello mobsters. Leading the charge is none other than ConnorEsther's missing boyfriend. Naturally enough, the two have a confrontation that ends with Esther's short and unhappy trip to jail (because she slapped Connor when he made a derogatory comment about her costume and her job at Bella Stella).

     Connor quickly gets Esther released, but she is still furious with him, mainly because he makes no attempt to explain or apologize for his actionsor lack of them. They go their separate ways at that point: Connor to Chinatown to investigate an old crime and Esther to her friend Max Zadok's magical bookstore in search of sympathy and food. Soon, Max and Esther are summoned to Chinatown (what a coincidence) by Lucky Battistuzzi, who managed to escape the police raid and has been hiding in a Chinatown funeral home of which he is part owner. Lucky has discovered a mystical murdera murder that involves a cursed fortune cookie (thus, the book's title), and he needs Max's help in solving it.

     The rest of the story follows Esther as she gets a job making a really bad independent film in Chinatown and verbally sparring with Connor every time they run into one another. She also meets a handsome Chinese American biochemist named John Chen, who is definitely showing some interest in her by the time the book ends. Also, another fiery event occurs in a scene in which Esther's life is in danger and Connor is running to her rescue. I'm hoping that in the next book we'll finally find out just what is going on with Connor and his magic (of which he seems totally unaware).

     This is another solid story, even though it does bog down when Resnick stops (frequently) to lecture the reader about the history of Chinese immigration, the origin of fortune cookies, the deliciousness of many kinds of Chinese food, and the origin of the Chinese tongs. Resnick sets each novel in the series within a different historical/cultural framework, and her info dumps have been getting more and more lengthy and dense as the series progresses. Instead of using her research as an integral part of the story, she just explains it all to us through the mouths of various characters, chiefly Max Zadok. This book is nearly 400 pages long, and I'm guessing that 30 pages or more of extraneous information could have been edited out without damaging the story line. In fact, it would have improved the pace.

     The best scene in the book occurs early on when Connor and his NYPD colleagues raid the restaurant and he and Esther confront one another, airing their dirty laundry loudly, hilariously, and publicly—to the obvious amusement of cops and gangsters alike. This is the type of scene that we saw much more frequently in the earlier novels, but nothing else in this book comes even close to its effectiveness, although the pre-raid scene in the restaurant with the mobsters does bring back good memories of Doppelgängster (book 2).

       Resnick goes to great lengths to summarize previous events so that any book in this series can be read as a stand-alone, but I urge you to read the earlier books because Esther's adventures are so much more fun when you get all of the wisecracking dialogue and meet the huge cast of quirky characters, especially those lovable wise guys. 
To read an excerpt from The Misfortune Cookie, click HERE to go to the book's page and click on the cover art.

1 comment:

  1. Book 4, "Vamparazzi" is scheduled to be released 10/04/2011.

    Book 5, "Polterheist" is scheduled to be released 2012.

    Book 6, "The Misfortune Cookie" had not be scheduled yet.