No Humans Involved by Kelley Armstrong

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No Humans Involved by Kelley Armstrong

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Category: Fantasy
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Lesley Mason
Reviewed by Lesley Mason
Summary: A gripping and totally believable murder mystery in which the detectives (who just happen to be werewolves, demi-demons, necromancers) come up against the darkest of ritual sacrifices. Horror and suspense superbly mingled with gentle humour and a sideswipe at the world as we know it.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 464 Date: March 2008
Publisher: Orbit
ISBN: 978-1841493954

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If you're going to start writing about werewolves and demi-demons and necromancers... and you're writing for adults... you really only have two options. You go for the horror angle (think Stephen King) or for the humour potential (think Terry Pratchett).

Unless you're Kelley Armstrong.

In which case you create a world where supernatural beings aren't necessarily evil or scary. They're not all out for justice or revenge or stalking the streets looking for human flesh. They're just there. Another species existing in real-time and space and with problems of their own.

Not only are they there. Some of them are here. Now. Living real lives - well, as real as life can be in L.A. - alongside a host of unsuspecting humans.

The fact that some of those humans happen to be making a living as spiritualists just adds to the fun.

Having created this world. Armstrong lets it stand, allows it to pass for the normality of the world, and then tells a story within that context. One which couldn't play out, but for the context, but one which is, in essence, a simple detective story. A murder mystery.

In No Humans Allowed, we meet renowned medium Jaime Vegas - in town to participate in the reality TV show of the decade: three spiritualists gather to raise (and finally lay) the ghost of Marilyn Monroe. The trouble is... Jaime is a necromancer... she really can raise the dead... Unlike her co-stars she eats her on-set meals with a "residual" hanging from the chandelier two feet from her face and whilst, Marilyn may not yet have put in an appearance, she wasn't the only movie star to die an early death...

There's something else though. In the garden, there are half-heard whispers, touches, restless spirits. This is nothing new for Jaime... it's just an unpleasant fact of life like door-to-door salesmen and to be treated, according to her Nan, exactly the same way. But this is different. The contact isn't complete. There's something wrong. She cannot just ignore this.

Enlisting the help of the gorgeously unattainable Alpha werewolf, Jeremy Danvers, and seeking that of her trusted friend Eve from the other side, Jaime begins an investigation into 'a shocking underworld of black magic and ritual sacrifice' - as shocking, it turns out, to our supernatural protagonists as it would be to any humans of right mind. The dark arts are dark... but they are not of themselves evil... when ritual sacrifice becomes part of the picture, it is almost certain that the practitioners don't know what they are dealing with. They do not understand that the magic is in the blood, not in the potions - the blood of the practitioner, not that in the potion.

As we follow Jaime Vegas trying to control her lust for the wolf Jeremy and maintain her professional dignity in the face of the on & off-set machinations of her co-stars, their agents, and a few underhand tactics on the part of the producers, all while following up the clues, cursing the limits of her powers and discovering those of some of her allies in the chase, there are occasional "asides" - a "meanwhile in another part of the city" view which gives the reader clues that the detectives don't have. The darkened rooms, the victims' inability to fight back, the blown powder and the overriding need for the group to stay focussed. Whatever the cost.

If this isn't sounding like much 'fun' so far... perhaps I'm telling it wrong. Because "great fun" is my overriding reaction to No Humans Involved. It is a romp of a book, that manages to sustain the mystery and the suspense throughout. If you take out the lust-angle between Jaime and the wolf... I'd rather you didn't because it's brilliantly written and a pleasure to read... and, let's face it! an alpha-male wolf called Jeremy??!!...but if you did take it out, the whole thing could translate straight to screen as 'parental guidance' family entertainment. The supernatural fight-sequences are a mixture of spells and sheer muscle-power, the horror of the rat-infested tunnels or raising the dead can be played for King-horror or Hitchcock-suspense (it reads more the latter), but that's balanced by high-level Council ghosts complaining about the fates, whilst wielding undescribed beyond-the-grave-pain inflicting devices straight out of the Witches of Eastwick. Derivative? Possibly, but so superbly rendered that I don't care.

It's a surprisingly moral world that Armstrong has created. Not only do the bad guys get their just deserts... most of them... eventually... But the good guys are never totally truly good, so they have karmic making good to do as well. Werewolves suffer from a shortage of females in the pack but make surprisingly good parents. You can be an Alpha and take leadership seriously, and still wish you could be reckless once in a while. Maybe even be reckless, if you can find a space where no one's watching your back. There are lessons about asking for help, about being proud of your specialisms and learning to rely on those with different ones - what the management theorists might call interdependence. It's a world where even ghosts need to do stomach crunches, and spiritualists are truly frightened by the possibility that they might actually be right. A world where no-one knows everything, everybody makes mistakes and we all need friends. A world where the one time a girl turns out in sensible sneakers she really, really wishes she had her stiletto heels...

Beyond that... the real surprise is that it all comes over as being so utterly, entirely, plausible.

Suspend your disbelief and enjoy.

This is the seventh book in the series of Otherworld novels by Kelley Armstrong, and many of the characters will be known to readers of the earlier books. For those of us new to her work, it's a splendid introduction and one that entices a trawl through the back catalogue. No prior knowledge required.

If you like this book then you might also enjoy Nicci French for the darker side; for the lighter take on the supernatural, you can't beat Pratchett. You might also enjoy Angels of Destruction by Keith Donohue.

Kelley Armstrong's Women of the Otherworld Series in Chronological Order

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lechateau1962 said:

I love this type of genre but I must admit to never having heard of the author before and after reading the review it really does make me want to find out more about her and her books.

Definitely one to put and the other 6 on my to-read list!