The Misfortune Cookie
by Laura Resnick, paranormal (2013)
DAW, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-7564-0847-3


The Misfortune Cookie, the sixth book in Laura Resnick's urban fantasy series featuring Esther Diamond, is a considerable improvement over the previous book. I had seriously thought about giving up on this series after the rigor mortis experience of Polterheist, but this one is set in the Chinatown of Manhattan, when Chinese New Year is just around the corner. And, just look at the gorgeous cover! Okay, I can give this series one more try.

Still searching for that breakthrough role of a lifetime, Esther Diamond resumes waiting tables at Bella Stella, which remains open for business despite some recent weird things that happened there. The place is still a favorite of the Italian folks that dabble in organized crime, so it's probably not a good idea to keep working there. But the tips are great, and the guests aren't bad at all. But all good things come to an end, and the end arrives in the form of an OCCB raid, ruining all the fine tippers' meals and causing the place to go down. Needless to say, Esther is out of a job. Worse, the raid was led by Manhattan's finest, which included Detective Connor Lopez, and that SOB never called one week later, since they'd slept together. Asshole!

Her friend, Lucky Battistuzzi, lives up to his nickname when he manages to avoid getting arrested during the raid by being at the right place at the right time. Still, he has better lay low, so he holes up at the funeral parlor that he co-owned with a Chinese friend, right in Chinatown. It is there that he suspects the recent death of a member of the Chinese tong may be caused by paranormal means - a curse contained in a fortune cookie, to be exact. Esther's buddy Dr Max Zadok confirms that Lucky's suspicion is correct after doing some magical tests on the cookie in question. Oh no, is someone in town running around giving people a bunch of cursed fortune cookies?

I know, the plot, and I think the author knows it too, which is why the paranormal elements are present in a "blink and you'll miss it" manner. Seriously, there is only one paranormal scene - Max conducting some tests on the cursed cookie - in about 390 pages of this story, and the villain runs around at the climax of the story threatening to shoot people with a gun. A normal gun.

The lack of paranormal elements is both good and bad. It's good because it allows the author to show me that she is capable of some great comedy. The bulk of this story deals with Esther's admittedly petty grudge against Connor warring with her desire to fling her underwear at his head, and there are some outrageously funny moments that have me laughing. This is especially in the first few chapters. I like funny, so I like those bits.

On the other hand, I am tired of Esther and Connor. Their romance feels drawn out for no good reason, and if they start becoming another Joe-Stephanie thing, I'm going to tip a bucket of swill over their heads. Right now, the progression of their romance moves at a snail's pace, and yet, it still manages to push aside most of the paranormal aspects of this story. If future books are going to be this paranormal-light, I don't know how I'd feel about that. I signed up in the beginning for Max and Esther. Right now, it seems like Max is just here to serve as a vessel for exposition and a deus ex machina plot device, much to my disappointment.

Anyway, back to the boring couple. Connor can be an ass in the past, but I'm amused that his continuous ability to cheese Esther off stems from oh-so-male forgetfulness mixed with "I really don't want to call and be subjected to her shrill scolding" trepidation. I suspect many guys can relate to him here, as Esther shows that she can really hold a petty grudge even after knowing that he never called, mostly because his time is consumed by his job. Do you want to call such a creature and tell her why you didn't call, knowing that she just wants to scream and shout at you? Still, Esther is funny when she's petty, I'd give her that.

Take away the comedy, however, and not much left remains that is fun.

The author still gets carried away with dumping everything she has researched into this story. When Max lectures everyone about Chinese culture, that makes sense - he's like that, after all, that's his personality. When Esther and various secondary characters start going to detailed exposition about traditional Chinese culture, however, that's when I get forcefully pulled out of the story. A Chinese character may know plenty about the topic, but having him unload everything on Esther ten seconds into their acquaintance is hard to believe. It is even more unbelievable when Esther starts delivering "Everything Laura Resnick Had Researched in Six Paragraphs or Less" exposition. How would an out-of-work actress-turned-waitress know anything about this subject to such a thorough degree?

The plot is unbelievably flat. The identity of the villain is obvious from the start, as there is only one candidate that fits the bucket of crazy profile. I was hoping that this creature is just a red herring, but as the book lumbers to page 350 and only two people have died, with no other suspect available, it's pretty obvious that the author isn't even trying to make the story even a little unpredictable. When the villain is unmasked, therefore, my reaction is like, "Yeah, yeah, now go wash my socks."

Then again, the story is funny, unlike the previous book, so perhaps there is something worth hanging around for in the upcoming books? I also find myself intrigued by the sequel hook in this story. I suspect that I will end up checking out the next book, when it's out. As for this book, well, as I've mentioned, it's a step up in the right direction, but I would need more reassurance that this series is rebounding back to a good place.

Rating: 78


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