Series: SISTERS OF THE CRAFT TRILOGY
Plot Type: Soul Mate Romance (SMR)
Ratings: Violence—4; Sensuality—4; Humor—2-3
Publisher and Titles: St. Martin's
In the Air Tonight (6/2/15)
Heat of the Moment (6/30/15)
NOVEL 1: In the Air Tonight
With her blue-black hair and dark eyes, Raye Larsen has never fit in with the Scandinavian community of New Bergin, Wisconsin. Being adopted is part of the reason she feels like an outsider, but what really sets Raye apart is her ability to see dead people. Everywhere. She's learned to keep her visions to herself...until she stumbles onto the ghost of a murder victim who needs Raye's help.
Raye is a kindergarten teacher who is happy in her job. She has always felt out of place in New Bergin—a dark-haired, dark-eyed only child (adopted) in a town filled with large families headed by blond, blue-eyed parents with lots of blond, blue-eyed children. Raye was found abandoned in a ditch when she was an infant, so she has no idea who her parents are or why they left her. Her adoptive mother has been dead for several years, and her adoptive father has never trusted Raye's strangeness. Ever since she can remember, Raye has been able to see and communicate with ghosts. When she was a child, her parents caught her having conversations with—apparently—no one, and at one point, her father even suggested that perhaps they should return her to the social workers.
The plot kicks off when a woman's burned and mutilated body is found on a city sidewalk in New Bergin. When Raye walks past the scene on her way to work, the woman's ghost grabs Raye's arm, leaving a bruised hand print, and exclaims, "He will burn us all" before disappearing in a puff of smoke and flame. Adding to the mystery is the fact that Raye has been seeing a black wolf and the ghost of a man dressed in Puritan-style clothing in and near her apartment. The pair has been stalking her ever since she can remember, but they have always been silent. Now, the man begins to talk to her, warning of dangerous times ahead and explaining the complicated history of their connected pasts. Then, one dark night, a huge man with a meat cleaver sneaks into her apartment and tries to kill her. When she runs out into the street for help, she stops a car driven by a New Orleans detective who has just arrived in town to investigate the woman's death because he believes that the perpetrator is a serial killer who has been active in New Orleans.
Bobby Doucet comes from a long line of Creoles—a mixture of French, Spanish, and a little bit of Haitian. He has lived in New Orleans all his life and has never seen any place like New Bergin—which he nicknames Podunk. Everything here is strange to him: the weird Scandinavian food, the provincial townsfolk who view him as an exotic creature, the fact that New Bergin does not have a hotel, and the fact that everyone in town knows everyone else's business. When Bobby meets Raye in the middle of the street in the middle of the night, he wonders just what he is in for.
Naturally enough, the two are immediately attracted to one another, and their romance blossoms relatively quickly. But both of them have deep, dark secrets, and those secrets complicate their relationship. Raye has to hide her ghost-talking so that Bobby won't think she is crazy, and Bobby, who despises all things paranormal, is riddled with guilt over the death of his daughter, whose ghost is shadowing him and having sad conversations with Raye. She explains to Raye that even though Bobby can't see ghosts, he is able to feel them: "He refuses to acknowledge anything that hints at the mystical, but he has magic in his blood."
Meanwhile, the murder investigation is also complicated. After Bobby kills a suspect who is attempting to murder Raye, a second murderer takes the life of an eccentric local woman. Things really get complicated when an FBI agent suggests that the murder cases definitely involve witchcraft. It is at this point that Handeland introduces some familiar characters from her NIGHTCREATURE series into the story: FBI agent Nic Franklin from Dark Moon (book 3) and Voodoo Priestess Cassandra from Midnight Moon (book 5). (Click HERE to read my review of the NIGHTCREATURE series.)
This is a typical paranormal romance with star-crossed lovers who fall in love while solving a supernatural mystery—in this case some supernatural murders. It will be interesting to see how far Handeland will go with her involvement of the NIGHTCREATURE world in this new series. Handeland has always been a good story teller, and in this novel she has created an interesting premise; a likable pair of lovers; a spooky, action-filled plot; and a series story arc that promises a family reunion that will include both dead and living relatives. You'll notice that I gave this series a 2-3 rating for humor. That humor comes mostly in the dialogue, which has many sly and snarky wisecracks from Raye, Bobby, and some of the secondary characters, particularly the police chief, the coroner, and Bobby's partner back in New Orleans.
Since all three books will be published this summer, this is your chance to read a well-crafted paranormal romance trilogy without having to wait a year or more between books—a rare occurrence indeed.
One last thing: At one point, Raye treats Bobby's bruises with an ointment made from Arnica. Since I was unfamiliar with Arnica, I googled it, and you can click HERE to read what I found. (Scroll down to the "Homeopathy" section of the article.)
When the police chief of Three Harbors, Wisconsin, asks for Dr. Becca Carstairs' assistance in solving a series of disappearances of local pets—all black in color—she doesn't know what to think. Then, she stumbles on the burned and mutilated bodies of those animals in the ramshackle house in which her ex-lover once lived. Even more shocking: Owen McAllister has returned home, recovering from crippling injuries suffered while serving in Afghanistan and accompanied by his military service dog, Reggie. The two parted ten years ago under heartbreaking circumstances, but they have continued to love one another through all those long years.
As usual, there are two blended story lines: the romance and a murder mystery. The murderer first attempt to kill Becca, but is driven off by the same green-eyed black wolf we met in the first novel. The mystery is complicated by the presence of Owen's mentally challenged mother, who was always considered by the locals as a witch because of her odd behavior and her heavy use of drugs. As bodies accumulate and the murderer remains at large, the Jäger-Sucher team from the NIGHTCREATURE series (Cassandra, Edward, and Nic) shows up along with Raye and Bobby to assist in the suspenseful and violent climax. Even though I could predict the identity of at least one of the villains, another one took me completely by surprise.
Both the action plot and the romance are well developed and interesting. Becca has only one TSTL moment (but unfortunately it's a big one), and Owen is one of Handeland's most complex heroes yet. He grew up as the son of the town's crazy, scary witch, with Becca being his only friend. When their teenage romance was thwarted, Owen had to leave Becca behind, which he has regretted ever since. Becca, like Raye, always felt like she didn't really belong. She has always been able to converse with animals, but had to hide that talent because it upset her parents. People in town always teased her about her bright red hair and told her that she must be adopted (although her parents always assured her that she was their natural child). "Kids noticed how different I was from every other Carstairs on the planet, which led to a lifetime of comments about the 'stork getting it wrong,' and other oh-so-amusing jibes." When Raye finally comes to town tells Becca the truth about her genetic heritage, it's almost too much for her to bear.
This is a terrific story that is a solid addition to this trilogy. Even though Handeland reviews the mythology, I recommend that you read Heat of the Moment first, just to keep the action chronologically correct. I always enjoy Handeland's books because she creates complex characters and suspense-filled plots. The addition of Reggie, Owen's extremely intelligent and charismatic dog, adds even more depth because Reggie turns out to be a very important supporting character. If you are looking for an entertaining new paranormal romance series that is available in its entirety right now, this is the one for you.
The final novel will introduce the third sister and her soul mate and resolve the triplets' conflict with the evil Roland McHugh.
NOVEL 3: Smoke on the Water
FULL DISCLOSURE: My review of Smoke on the Water is based on an electronic advance reading copy (ARC) of the book that I received from the publisher through Netgalley. I received no promotional or monetary rewards, and the opinions in this review are strictly my own.