Julie Kenner’s Carpe Demon: Adventures of a Demon-Hunting Soccer Mom has a killer premise that’s neatly summed up in the title. If the book itself isn’t quite as killer, it’s still pretty good, a light, fluffy read perfect for summer.
Kate Connor used to work as a demon hunter for the Vatican, until she left that world behind fifteen years ago for a quiet life in the suburbs. These days she lives in the sleepy California town of San Diablo with her husband and two kids, a teenage daughter and toddler son. Then one afternoon while shopping in the local Wal-Mart, she detects a pungent odor that in the old days would have alerted her to the presence of a demon. Being out of practice, she attributes the smell to her toddler and quickly moves to change his diaper. Later that night she discovers her mistake, when an old man she spotted earlier at the store bursts through her kitchen window and tries to kill her.
Kate quickly gets back in touch with her old contact at the Vatican, who warns her of a looming threat to the world. Minions of the high demon Goramesh are searching the earth for something, and the hunt has led them to Kate’s backyard. With no Hunters available to be dispatched to San Diablo, Kate has no choice to take up the demon-hunting duties herself. It’s not like she didn’t have enough on her plate already, with her husband starting a political career, her daughter entering high school, and her toddler…being a toddler. Suddenly she’s juggling a secret identity, honing her slaying skills and trying to figure out what it is the demons are after in order to save the world, all while trying to keep her family safely in the dark.
One of the pleasures of this book is watching Kate deal with everything that’s thrown at her with ingenuity and a remarkable composure. She may not be what first comes to mind when most readers think of a kick-ass heroine, but she certainly is one, deftly finding ways to handle the disparate sides of her life. The book wouldn’t work at all if the very different sides of her personality weren’t equally believable. Fortunately, they are. The author capably creates a character who’s warm and real enough to be believable as a regular suburban soccer mom but also convincing as a tough demon hunter facing down the supernatural without batting an eye. When a prominent judge shows up for a dinner party and Kate detects the tell-tale odor that indicates he might be a demon, she has to figure out how to prove it, and possibly exterminate him, without ruining her husband’s political chances. It’s in scenes like this that the book shines. The story is always amusing and often outright funny. There are plenty of clever bits, like Kate’s struggle to keep her family from discovering the body she has stashed in the pantry and her subsequent dilemma of how to dispose of it.
The author has a very engaging style that keeps this a fun, entertaining read from start to finish. When I picked up the book, I really only intended to read a couple of chapters, and soon found I’d finished the whole thing in one sitting. The characterization isn’t exactly deep, but Kenner assembles a cast of characters who are very enjoyable company, from Kate’s nice guy husband to a seemingly crazy old man who may know more about what’s happening than anyone except Kate suspects. I’m not the biggest fan of children in books, but even I’ll admit Kate’s two-year-old is adorable. The ending leaves the door open for future books with Kate and company, and the author does a nice job creating a group of people and a universe this reader would be more than willing to revisit.
The story moves at a decent rate, but is never quite what I’d call fast-paced. Kate narrates the story in first-person, and she’s a chatty narrator who often spends time detailing the less interesting parts of the story instead of sticking to the meat of the tale. At times, there’s too much Soccer Mom and not enough Demon-hunting. The middle of the book in particular loses steam and sags a little, because the demon aspect is shoved to the background and Kate’s domestic difficulties take center stage. The book works best when both are occupying her attention. Scenes like when Kate has to figure out how to dispose of a demon’s body when she has dinner guests arriving at any moment are fun. Sections where she tries to find a day care center or tells us all about her shopping trip to buy food for a cocktail party aren’t. Because of the digressions, some aspects of the plot don’t receive as much development as they need, and the ending is somewhat rushed. I should also note that, perhaps inevitably given the premise, there are some scenes with the children being threatened and their lives are in danger that might bother more sensitive readers, especially when Kate’s toddler is the one in jeopardy.
Even with those minor weaknesses, Carpe Demon has more than enough energy and comedic flair to make it a fun summertime read. Light, clever and consistently amusing, it’s perfect for the beach or a hammock, or simply for anyone looking for an entertaining book.