Unsympathetic Magic
by Laura Resnick, paranormal (2010)
DAW, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-7564-0635-6


Esther Diamond, her magician partner-in-crime Dr Max Zadok, and her almost-boyfriend-or-maybe-not, er, "friend" Detective Connor Lopez are back in a third installment of Laura Resnick's wacky paranormal mystery series. Unsympathetic Magic can stand alone well, however, as the author introduces a new cast of secondary characters and the plot has nothing to do with those present in the previous books. It's fine to dip your toes in this one if you are new to the series.

Poor Esther. Just when she's finally getting a chance at being more of a full-time actress, part-time waitress (instead of the other way around), her plum role as a homeless bisexual junkie whore on a popular TV series is forced into an abrupt halt when the main actor suffers from a heart attack while she is simulating oral sex on him. It's not as bad as it sounds, really.

Esther ends up taking a job in the Harlem neighborhood, where she stands in as the acting teacher for her ex-boyfriend and fellow struggling actor Jeff. She works in the HQ of a charity foundation that allows African-Americans to take up classes for self-improvement. Her students are manageable, she's doing a good thing for the kids... so what could go wrong?

Zombies! Okay, it's not the horror movie brain-hungry zombies we are talking about here. The zombies here are the sorts featured in myths and folklore involving voodoo, or vodou in this book. Actually, zombies aren't the real threat here, as they are generally soulless meat controlled by the witch doctor or bokor for some mysterious but undoubtedly nefarious purpose. The bokor is working with the darker loas, it seems, and our gang has better stop this bokor before more dead bodies pile up.

I'm sorry to say that I am still indifferent to the relationship of Esther and Connor. The author shows me more of him in this story, but he still comes off like a Dana Scully to Esther's Fox Mulder, only with extra stubbornness and an ability to weave "realistic" justifications for the unexplained that would make Agent Scully look like Kool-aid mixer of a cult. I can take them or leave them, basically, but for the most part here, there is a natural progression of sorts in their relationship. They have settled into a comfortable banter here, and it's nice.

Actually, it seems like Ms Resnick has become more confident about humor. The one-liners are funnier and the author's comedic timing has improved. Jeff is a hilarious character for a self-absorbed ex-boyfriend, and I actually think Esther and he have a more enjoyable "we're exes but we're still talking to each other because, oh god, I think we like one another better when we're separated" way. Just take note that the humor here can be rather... insensitive at times, as Esther has a tendency to say the most socially gauche things at the worst moments. I find this funny - hello, it's me we're talking about here - but I can't vouch for anyone else.

Now, I did say that this one is funny, so I'm going to seem contradictory when I say that this one is very preachy too. But it's true: Esther is a blank slate where vodou is concerned, so Max and various secondary characters tend to launch into lectures to fill her - and me - in. The author knows how preachy these characters can be, though, as she has Esther remark on this too. On the bright, I find the lectures interesting, as I always have an interest in spiritualism, so I'm more than happy to go along.

I've had a good time reading Unsympathetic Magic, so much so that I think it's better than the previous two books. One thing prevents me from donning my cheerleader uniform and shake those pom-poms though: the villain is the embodiment of every tired stereotype associated with that archetype, so much so that when this person steps into the story, my immediate reaction is: "Please, please, don't let this cartoon character be the bad guy." Unfortunately, this is exactly what happens, and I also guessed at the character's motive correctly too. While the mystery is wacky but enjoyable, the denouement is too predictable for its own good.

Rating: 84


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