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Friday, February 11, 2011


Author:  Eileen Rendahl
Plot Type:  Urban Fantasy (UF)
Ratings:  Violence--4; Sensuality--3; Humor--3   
Publisher and Titles:  Berkley
      Don't Kill the Messenger (2010)
      Dead on Delivery (2011) 
      Dead Letter Day (2013)

     This post was revised and updated on 4/4/13 to include a review of the third book in the series, Dead Letter Day. That review appears first, followed by an overview of the world-building and reviews of books 1 and 2:

          BOOK 3:  Dead Letter Day                     
     The entire action plot of this book revolves around Melina's increasingly desperate search for her werewolf friend, Paul. As the story opens, Paul has been missing for about two weeks, and no one but Melina and Paul's girlfriend, Meredith, seem to be concerned that Paul has disappeared without a trace. When Melina checks in with Paul's pack alpha, Chuck, he explains that he told Paul to take "a good hard look at his priorities" (p. 9) because Paul was risking exposure of werewolves to humans every time he rescued Melina from one of her misadventures. In addition, Chuck and the pack are upset about Paul's romantic relationship with Meredith, who is a witch. Werewolves, in general, don't like witches, so Chuck demanded that Paul break off the relationship. Chuck is sure that Paul has gone off to think things through, and he refuses to help Melina in her search.

     When the pack refuses to help her, Melina realizes that she is on her own. She is certain that Paul didn't go off on a whim, so she tries to figure out who would benefit from his absence. As Melina searches for clues and suspects, she has to battle a few monsters (including some killer cows), and she is stalked by a pair of huge crows who don't attack her, but just hang around and watch her.

     In a related story line, Sacramento has had several instances of humans being attacked by furry, growling, raw-meat-eating creatures who look like a combination human/werewolf, and no one—not even the werewolves—know where the creatures came from or what they are.      

     The major weakness in the action part of the plot is that most of Melina's clue-searching leads to dead ends, and most of her suspects don't pan out. Although it's pretty easy to identify the villain early in the story, Melina doesn't figure it out until 2/3 of the way through the book, and she doesn't learn the actual reasons for Paul's kidnapping until the very end. Instead of playing out like a police procedural, with clues and theories building up to the climax, the resolution of this plot pops out of nowhere, and the whole bit with the gigantic, brooding crows fizzles away into nothing.

     As far as character development goes, this book has a lot going on, particularly in the Melina-Ted relationship. You'll be able to guess (well before Melina does) just what is happening there, and it's interesting to watch Melina's reaction to a major impending change in her life. (I can't be any more specific without giving away a spoiler.) In addition to her relationship issues, Melina continues to develop stronger powers, and she's not sure why or how or whether they will get stronger. We also get some new information about Ted's genetic heritage in this book. (Maybe his father wasn't schizophrenic after all.)

     Just one more thing: Rendahl overuses the slang phrase, "True that" in conversations between characters, slipping it in over and over again. (I stopped counting at eight.) This may be a common expression among relatively inarticulate people, but it's just annoying for the reader, and it's evidence that the author needs to improve the construction of her characters' dialogues.
     For me, this is the weakest book in the series so far—primarily due to the sketchy plot development. In the Introduction, Rendahl says that this book "was written during a time of emotional turmoil," so let's hope that things are better in her life as she works on book 4.

     In this fresh take on urban fantasy in an alternate Sacramento, Melina Markowitz is a Messengerkind of a magical UPS driver. When a 'Cane (aka arcane, aka supernatural) wants to send something to another 'Cane, Melina is the deliverer. She earned this job through no fault of her own when she was just a toddler. One day, when Melina was three years old, she drowned—was actually dead for a brief time—and when she came back to life she was a Messenger. This is a non-paying job that requires her full cooperation. If she refuses to make a delivery, she suffers punishment from an unknown source.  

     There is a pro side to being a Messenger: super strength and ultra-quick reflexes. Melina's roommate (Norah) is a 'Dane (aka mundane/human)a childhood friend who is seemingly oblivious to Melina's 'Cane existence (at least in book 1). In order to make ends meet, Melina works two jobs: martial arts instructor and ER admissions clerk at the local hospital.

     The supporting characters include three hot guys: Alexander (vampire ER doctor), Paul (werewolf bartender), and Ted Goodnight (human cop). In book 1, Melina hooks up with Ted. Two final supporting characters are Mae, a former Messenger who is Melina's mentor, and Meridith, a witch who has a relationship with Paul. There is a lot of light humor in the seriesin Melina's thoughts and in some of her conversations with the supporting characters.

          BOOKS 1 & 2            
Plot summary, book 1: 
     The plot kicks off when Melina is jumped by a group of ninjas, who steal the package she is supposed to be delivering. When she begins to investigate the theft, she gets deeper and deeper into a situation involving street gangs, the Triad, drug dealers, and Chinese vampires.

Plot summary, book 2:
     When two recipients of packages delivered by Melina commit suicide, she begins to wonder if her delivery caused their deaths. Melina begins to investigate and stumbles into a bruja's murderous plan for vengeance. Two side plots involve Norah and Alex's growing attraction to one another and Paul and Meredith's complex relationship. Melina and Ted's relationship is about the most normal part of this bookrefreshing after all the drama in book 1. The only part of book 2 that does not ring true is the warm and fuzzy "love-conquers-all" ending.

      Book 1 is the weaker of the two books, for these reasons: 

The heroine:
     Although Melina's role in the magical world is new to urban fantasy fiction, her character traits are not. In book 1, she's whiny, addicted to coffee, loves her eccentric car, wears all black clothing, and carries on an endless interior monologue about the minutiae of her life—just like so many other heroines out there in the UF world. Can't we have a heroine who wears something other than black tank tops? Luckily, Melina's character settles down and stops whining in book 2 (still wearing all black, though). Also, although Melina is supposed to be smart and streetwise, she does some very stupid things in book 1(like the security camera incident and the time-worn climaxgoing off on her own to solve the case all by herself, leaving her entire team behind). Melina's character is much more likable and logical in book 2not so much whining and coffee drama and not so many uncharacteristically dumb moves.

     Here's Melina as she meditates about her life: "It’s hard not to feel like you’re drowning when the only thing you feel you have to hold on to is a sign saying that you’re in over your head." (p. 191, Dead on Delivery)

The men:
     In book 1, we learn some biographical facts about Ted's childhood with his schizophrenic father, but that's about it. Alexander and Paul are blank slates. The relationships between Melina and Alexander and Melina and Paul are explored only on the surface—no meaningful connection between them. In book 1, Melina seems to be somewhat attracted to all three of the men, but there are few scenes that demonstrate the reasons for that attractionother than the fact that they're all cute and sexy. In fact, it's quite a shock when Kokopelli  comes to pick up his flute, looks at the three men, and tells Melina, "You're not in love with just one, are you? You're in love with them all" (Don't Kill the Messenger, p. 320). Where did that come from? Thankfully, this whole male relationship thing straightens itself out in book 2.

     Here, Melina muses about Paul (the werewolf): "Paul was still watching me with a hungry look on his face. Therein lay the problem with getting involved with werewolves. I never quite knew whether they were planning on eating me, humping me or peeing on me. I'm not sure they knew half the time. Besides, Grandma Rosie always says that if you lay down with dogs, you'll wake up with fleas.  Just thinking about it made me want to scratch." (Don't Kill the Messenger, p. 45)

Relationship with Mae: 
     This is a book-one issue. Even though Mae is supposed to be Melina's nearly life-long mentor, that relationship is also undeveloped. In fact, when Mae suddenly turns on Melina, castigating her for not being more responsible, it seems to come out of nowhere, with no reason or warning.

The plots:
     The plot lines in book 1 are connected by coincidence upon coincidence, to the point of incredulity. A major problem for me was that even though Alexander and Paul spend most of the book actively backing away from the mystery that Melina is trying to solve, they suddenly and inexplicably change their minds and jump in at the last minute to come to her rescue. Why?  Once again, book 2 is better: logical flow to the plot and almost a police-procedural feel to the story line as Melina solves the case by gathering clues, one by one.

     In summary, this series has great potential. Book 2 is far and away better than book 1, so give the MESSENGER SERIES a try.

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