Laura Resnick’s Esther Diamond series are the only paranormals on my autobuy list. This is due to the dry tone of the novels and to Esther herself: She is a struggling actress in New York with an open mind and a no-nonsense personality, no magical talent whatsoever, but an attraction to the mystical like a magnet.
I adore both Esther and her elderly friend Max the magician, whose job it is to fight Evil, and her not-quite boyfriend Connor Lopez, who embodies just about everthing that is hot in a romance hero, and who is a smart and dedicated policeman with the slight disadvantage that he steadfastly refuses to believe in anything supernatural. Naturally I was thrilled to open Unsympathetic Magic, the third volume in the series. It was a decent read, even if it did not quite achieve the heights of the first two books.
When the novel starts, Esther actually has a job acting. She has landed the part of a hooker in a New-York-set cop show called The Dirty Thirty. One night they are filming on location in Harlem when the show’s star gets sick, and shooting must be interrupted. On the way to the nearest open eatery, and lagging behind the rest of her group, Esther comes across a young man with a rapier in hand who seems to be hunting something and warns her that there is danger about. A few minutes later, she hear something that sounds like dogs growling, and sees two small, ferocious creatures attacking another man. Esther manages to help him beat them off, but they have almost ripped off one of his hands. Trying to get help, Esther is arrested (due to her costume and makeup) and taken to the next police station. Although it goes much against her grain, she phones Lopez to get her out, but the wounded man has disappeared when they investigate, and it turns out the name he gave to Esther belongs to a man who has been dead for three weeks.
Determined to get to the bottom of this mystery, Esther turns to her friend Max. Soon they find a connection to a community center for young African-Americans in Harlem, where, among many other topics, both Vodou (the Haitian variation of voodoo) and sword-fighting are taught. It appears an evil practitioner of Vodou has been raising the dead, and Esther, Max, and their friends are out to stop them.
As usual in an Esther Diamond novel, Esther and Max find some allies in the course of their investigation, and it is a motley group that goes after the evil magician. This setup reminds me a bit of Phoebe Atwood Taylor/Alice Tilton’s Leonidas Witherall mysteries, which I adore. Another similarity is that there’s a lot of lively dialogue while the characters consider what they have found out so far, and what it may mean. The allies in this novel are a fun group, even if they are not quite as wacky and entertaining as those in the earlier volumes.
As far as the heat between Esther and Lopez is concerned, it goes up several notches. But there is also something there that I didn’t like so much. As a reaction to something that’s been going on, and to further the plot, Lopez behaves in a way quite untypical for him. If this is just a one-time matter, it’s just behavior I disliked but can get over, but if it’s going to become a habit, it might actually spoil my delight in the series, and I’d hate that. In addition, Esther at one point lets herself be manipulated too easily – again, it furthers the plot, but still it annoyed me.
If you haven’t read any of Laura Resnick’s paranormals yet, I recommend you start with Disappearing Nightly or Doppelgangster, partly because they are better, partly because there are some spoilers for them in Unsympathetic Magic. In spite of my slight disappointment with it, I still enjoyed this novel a lot, and am looking forward impatiently to reading more of Esther’s adventures.