The Blackburn & Scarletti Mysteries, Volume II, by Karen Koehler

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“Truly a book of two halves, Brian.”

Coincidentally, a year after the first collection, I find the time to read volume two; this contains two stories rather than two-and-a-fragment, but weighs in at about forty pages or so longer. Same price though, I am pleased to note… The first, Legion, takes our FBI agent and her semi-vampiric colleagues off to the post-flood city of New Orleans where a demonic force has been unleashed, which is capable of transferring its presence from one body to another. Hmmm…sounds not unlike Fallen, perhaps? That aside, I did enjoy this one thoroughly: the pace is good and, if the eventual destination of the entity is not perhaps a surprise (it’s quite close to the pair, shall we say), it makes for some great set-pieces. The best of these involves a church where the possessed victim is resting up, which results in a hellacious battle that’s genuinely exciting. The story elements are tidied up nicely too, leaving this a self-contained and effective tale.

However, despite the second story possessing a great title – The Phantom of the Soap Opera – I was much less engaged by it. The set of a daytime TV drama is plagued by mysterious ‘accidents’ of an occult nature, which leads to the pair re-uniting in order to investigate, triggered by a call from an old friend of Scarletti’s. There is just not enough meat on the bones of this one, though perhaps Koehler wasn’t happy with it either, since there is a lot of back-story added here. Indeed, to such a degree that it burdens the main characters, and its relevance to the main plot is doubtful. I’m also growing rather disillusioned by Blackburn’s relationship to the Jackal, the full vampire who saved her life in volume one; Koehler is treading dangerously close here, to the cliches which eventually sank the Anita Blake series.

Another small peeve was a surprising number of typos in the volume, such as “a traveling bad slung over one shoulder.” Though I’m far from immune to these myself [even if you can only have the ‘u’ in ‘colour’ when you pry it from my cold, dead hands, dammit], and I did smile at one, when Blackburn was served by a “gun-chewing waitress.” I’d be sure to leave her a good tip. Overall, not quite as good as the first compilation, though that’s largely down to the second story – individually, Legion rates a ****, but Phantom only **, getting stuck in a morass of its own making. While that leaves the review ending on a disappointing note, Blackburn remains an engaging heroine, and if Koehler can get back to more action-oriented writing in the next volume (as she showed herself eminently capable of in Legion), I’ll be waiting eagerly.

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