The Blackburn & Scarletti Mysteries Volume I, by Karen Koehler

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“The X-Files meets Hellsing. In a very dark alley.”

Take an FBI agent with some psychic ability, January Blackburn, and partner her with part-vampire Catholic priest, Dorian Scarletti. Intrigued? Me too. That’s the premise of the three stories in this book, where our odd couple investigate paranormal crimes around the US. The results are somewhat uneven, yet with much promise: Blackburn is probably a more interesting character, possessing both great inner strength, and quirks that make her vulnerable and more human. In contrast, Scarletti, thus far, seems a bit like a “vampire by numbers”, with all the standard moping around, relationship angst and so on, too familiar to be of more than passing interest. Though, must say, his weapon of choice – hundreds of cross-shaped throwing knives inside his coat – is worth cool points in my book (even if I presume he doesn’t go through airports).

The structure of the book is also somewhat irritating, bipping back and forth between present and past. For example, one scene has our pair undercover at a strip-club run by werewolves(!), where the residents have discovered Blackburn’s true nature and rush towards her to… End of chapter: cut to Scarletti in Victorian London, befriending the Elephant Man during the Ripper murders, for the next ten pages. “Aaargh!”, went this reader, skimming furiously. That’s a shame, because when Koehler sticks to the modern era, the stories are real page-turners, which on at least one occasion, made me late to work after lunch. The world it depicts has a huge amount of potential, and has clearly been well-thought out. In particular, the second story, The Hyde Effect, is a fabulous piece about killings in Boston that might – or might not – be werewolf-related. And that’s another good thing about these stories; the author is not afraid to mix occult and prosaic explanations.

As yet, Koehler is best known for her Slayer series, a lynchpin of the “industrial gothic” movement. [The protagonist there, Alek Knight, turns up in the third story, a smart bit of marketing!] But I see no reason why this shouldn’t become even more popular, if she concentrates on what makes her stand out from the field. Blackburn certainly has the potential to surpass Anita Blake as a horror-action heroine of literature. Let’s just hope Koehler, unlike Laurell K. Hamilton, can keep the soft-porn out.

By: Karen Koehler
Publisher: Black Death Books, $14.95

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