Thursday, December 16, 2010
These days when someone talks about influences on a newish Urban Fantasy or Paranormal Romance series the two names that most readily spring to mind are Charlaine Harris (author of the Sookie Stackhouse series on which the HBO hit True Blood is based) and Laurell K. Hamilton (author of the Anita Blake series), one name that doesn’t really come up is Janet Evanovich (author of the Stephanie Plum whodunits), however the heroine of Laura Resnick’s Esther Diamond series owes far more to Ms Evanovich’s feisty New Jersey bounty hunter than she does to Charlaine Harris’ mind reading Louisiana waitress or Laurell Hamilton’s reanimator cum vampire slayer.
Doppelgangster is actually the 2nd book in the series. The first one, the amusingly named Disappearing Nightly (Esther is a struggling actress) was originally published in 2005 and the author has since changed publishers and agents after the publisher of Disappearing Nightly (Luna) dropped the series due to disappointing sales of the book. Disappearing Nightly will be reissued by new publisher (DAW) in the near future. It’s not really necessary to have read the 1st book to pick up on this one. Esther gives a neat précis by way of introduction.
The cancellation of Esther’s current stage show (Sorceror!) forces her to find work as a singing waitress at a Little Italy establishment called Stella Bellas which is frequented by wiseguys from two feuding mob families (the Gambellos and the Corvinos). Esther sees a double of one of the hitmen and very soon after witnesses the man’s death. She becomes caught up in the aftermath of this, which also causes some interesting twists and turns in her relationship with homicide detective Connor Lopez. As more doubles keep popping up and the threat of a full scale mob war escalates Esther teams up with old school Gambello hit man Lucky Battistuzzi, her friend Max Zadok; a 350 year old magician, (Max was also a major character in Disappearing Nightly as was Lopez) and Max’s conjured up familiar; Nelli. Mayhem ensues and the phenomenon of doppelgangers are renamed doppelgangsters due to Lucky’s inability to correctly pronounce the accepted name. Can Esther, Lucky, Max and Nelli find out who’s behind it all in time to prevent an all out mob war, save themselves and Esther’s fast disintegrating romance with Detective Lopez? Can Esther do this and land a guest role on a popular TV cop show at the same time?
I found Doppelgangster a fun romp, yet another Urban Fantasy novel that proves you don’t need vampires or werewolves to succeed, although the doppelgangers were a little bit zombieish at times. Max’s attempts to understand Lucky’s ‘Goodfellas’ dialog were extremely amusing, and the presence of Max at a mob sit down trying to act like he was a wiseguy had me laughing out loud throughout the sequence. Nelli was also comedy relief and tended to remind me of Mouse from Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files. Esther herself is an engaging narrator and tells a fast moving, action packed story. The one weak link I found, and I have seen this mentioned elsewhere, was the romance angle. It just didn’t seem believable. I put it down to the character of Lopez. He was simply too good to be true: good looking, sensitive, intelligent, understanding, he came across as if he just stepped out of a B grade romance novel (Laura Resnick used to write romance so maybe he did), he was incredibly bland, it didn’t help that he was rarely if ever referred to by anyone, including Esther, by his first name. He was always Lopez or Detective Lopez. I really had to hunt to find out what his first name was. As Resnick seems to reuse her characters from book to book in this series I'm hoping that Max and Lucky will reappear in the next book.
That criticism aside I had a good time with Doppelgangster, will be keeping an eye out for the release of Disappearing Nightly and also look forward to adding the 3rd Esther Diamond adventure: Unsympathetic Magic to my bookshelf in the near future.