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Thursday, October 1, 2009

Book Review: Burning Water by Mercedes Lackey

     For the month of October I will be reviewing paranormal mysteries to celebrate what goes bump in the night for upcoming Halloween.  For the first of such paranormal mysteries I am reviewing an oldie but a goodie.

     Burning Water is a paranormal mystery. It is a solid paranormal story with a police angle, which makes it a great venue to showcase the dynamic main character Diana Tregarde.  There were only three total in the series ever written, which is a tremendous shame.

     The main character Diana, is not just a strong woman who can handle herself; she is a knowledgeable and powerful witch. An old friend of Diana’s on the Dallas police, Mark Valdez, brings Diana to Dallas to assist the police. Detective Valdez suspects a series of cattle mutilations and torture murders are not caused by something or someone of mere mortal status. Diana senses that powerful magic is behind this and teams with the Dallas PD to stop the murders – that are accelerating in violence.

     Police procedurals can get gritty and more explicit with details of murders and this is no exception. This presents Diana the witch in a very realistic manner and demonstrates how she and the metaphysical community were repulsed by such violence. Considering the date this was written, pre-Buffy-the-Vampire-slayer or Charmed, it seems critical to have shown the reader she is compassionate and fights to prevent suffering.

     The main character’s strong points as I see them are 1) she is confident but knows her limitations well 2) she was realistic with research and interviewing locals 3) she has depth – she is taking care of a friend suffering from AIDS back home and finds a healer whom she sends back to care take him and 4) she was not superwoman. All these points were highlighted due to the police procedural approach.

     The plot was handled deftly. The reader has the advantage of knowing more than Diana and Mark as they investigate - such as this all started in Mexico city and involves Aztec mysticism.  The investigation takes them across Dallas and the reader finds out more tidbits that add to the tension.  The writing is not flowing prose or high literature, it is efficient and streamlined which some like and some don't.

     The viewpoint occasionally would shift to a victim leading up to their murder, but no worries, the actual torture and murder and described only after the fact. Descriptions are not deliberately graphic for horror sake, but just enough to drive home the fact that they are chilling slayings.

     The dialog, I felt was believable.  Diana’s first meeting with the Dallas Chief of Police:

“Any relation of Mark Twain?” she asked as he released her hand.

“Somethin’ distant on m’mother’s side; she slapped it on me t’annoy some uppity aunty of hers back East,” the Chief replied with perverse pride. “Well, missy – you bein’ the imported expert, what y’all think?”
     And now Diana at Mark’s door early morning:
“Pardon me, sir,” came a high-pitched, squeaky voice, only partially muffled by having to pass through an inch of wood, “but I’m working my way through Gramarye School, and I wondered if I could interest you in a complete set of translations of the Necronomicon? Bound in genuine simulated humahide with fourteen-karat goldlike tooling? A priceless heirloom designed to be passed down to future generations, should you live so long?”
Less than ten hours ago the owner of that voice had been kneeling at the side of a very mangled corpse, doing a valiant job of not throwing up. Now she was making jokes…

“Not interested.” He opened the door.

Di was leaning up against the doorframe, an impish grin transforming her face to pure gamin. “Well how about some Gargoyle Scout Cookies, then?”

“Only if they have caffeine. Get in here, before my neighbors start to talk.”

She skipped inside and he closed the door behind her. “You mean they don’t talk now?”

“Of course they do – but if wholesome types like you start showing up making me get up early, they just might think I’ve gone respectable.”

“Good God, we can’t have that.”
     Pacing of the story was good as the investigation takes a couple of months, the story would have been rushed otherwise I felt. Tension is built progressively like Hitchcock was known for doing, and in many ways reminds me of the famous director’s signature suspense. The last third of the book I hated to put it down for any reason.
Di wrenched the door open and closed it quickly behind her, double locking it and throwing the security bolt. She was panting like a greyhound at the end of a race, and with good reason – she’d run the last six blocks to the boardinghouse.
 From the moment she’d stepped off the bus she’d known she was in danger. At first she had simply acted normally – except for putting up full and battle-hardened shields. But nothing attacked –

Only the feeling of peril had grown, nearer and stronger with every minute, until she had found herself running as fast as she could for the relative safety of the boardinghouse and her tools. She’d hit the door and unlocked it so fast she hardly believed it, and had squirted inside as if she’d been oiled.

She heard a movement behind her and started to spin – then her empathic senses identified Aunt Nita, and she relaxed just a trifle; completing her turn, but without the urgency of self-defense.

Her eyes had already adjusted to the limited light in the hall. It did not surprise her to see Aunt Nita had armed herself with a cleaver.

She cleared her throat. “So you feel it too – “ she said; more of a statement than a question.
     What fight scenes or action sequences involve magical battles and are believably handled. Not over done and super witch special effects, but savvy.

     There is a scene regarding a past life regression that was quite nicely done in my opinion. That entire sequence could easily have been botched but was in fact one of the richest scenes in the novel for emotion and impact.

     The ending was not the standard, and even there contained a touch of reality. The ending is perhaps the only area that, if I had my wish, would have been more the total justice-served ending. I am in no way saying that the ending wasn’t well done.  It was a good solid ending.

     It was a book that I hated to be done with because I wanted to continue and follow Diana back to Connecticut. The premise of having her assist with a police investigation demonstrated beautifully her awareness of forensic science and respect for the police and their boundaries. It also showed us her true self, for when she is in a strange and unfamiliar city she quickly figures out the bus system and the major players in town.

     Overall a great second novel, a refreshing main character and a storyline that still has me mulling over all the scenes. Thank you Mercedes Lackey, is there anyway possible to get you to pick up this series again and write more???

Obtained book through: Library

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Stormi said...

Sounds like a interesting book. Might just put it on my wish list.


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