Bechdel Test: FAIL
Deggan's Rule: FAIL
Gay Bechdel Test: FAIL
A unique approach to the urban paranormal detective noir genre. Usually I don't put any effort into providing any synopsis in my reviews, but this story is different enough to require me to provide some of the backstory. Our protagonist Ray Lilly (a bright piece of sunshine as innocent as the morning dew...) just got out of jail, this time at the behest of a secret order of magicians called The Twenty Palaces. He was in jail for some incident which resulted in a number of people dead, and a number of undead things made really-really dead. In return, he's been attached to an experienced magician to suss out some strange goings-on in a fictional logging town somewhere on the Olympic peninsula in Washington state.
His boss hates him, apparently one of the people he killed was a friend of hers. His job, as she often tells him, is to be bait for whatever baddies they may encounter and likely get himself killed while she does the real work. I liked this approach, it put the (first person) protagonist on the back foot starting at page one and kept him in a position where he had to think on his feet and didn't have a pool of resources to draw from. Perhaps most thankfully, it killed the romance angle before it even had a hope of germinating. The world does not need another story about Van Helsings falling into each others arms in the heat of battle. But I digress...
After spending most of his life intimately familiar with various correctional facilities, Ray has accumulated some skills around intimidation, brawling and the liberal criminal arts. He uses these skills to work through the mystery, working his way through the smalltown sized web of hidden alliances and influences while alternatively getting his ass kicked and beating people up. The mystery part of the story really dragged. It was not especially well done (obvious, predictable, slow) and Ray meets too many named characters who aren't provided any distinguishing characterstics. Throughout the book, I found myself thinking, "Who is this person? Where did Ray meet them? How do they fit into the story?". Making characters at least memorable if not entirely fleshed out is a prerequisite for writing a whatdunnit and this book falls short in this regard. Ray is voiced well, and his personality is well rounded and he finds himself in some believable moral quandries. His boss and the major supporting cast are all voiced well too so I wasn't ever tempted to give up on the book.
There are a lot of action scenes in this book. They're not done especially well; the pacing felt slow because often too many words were used to describe what was happening. Actually, the action scenes suffer for the same reason my reviews do HA! But they did their job and, again, I never questioned if I was going to finish the book.
As harshly as I've trashed this book so far, I'm going to read the rest of the series. I believe Mr. Connolly was let down by his editor. Del Rey has been around a while, they should be able to provide staff adequate for imaginative authors to take their pile of notes and wild tangents and redundancies and cliches and hammer the whole mess into a tight, well rounded, exciting story. There is nothing wrong with Mr. Connolly's imagination, or the scope of the book, or the plot that couldn't be fixed by some quality editing. I really like the premise he's set up for the series, I think Ray is an interesting character and my curiosity is piqued with regards to this mysterious all powerful organization that's wholly subsidizing Ray's life at this point.
 "whatdunnit" is my new phrase for "paranormal whodunnit"
Please note: I don't review to provide synopses, I review to share a purely visceral reaction to books and perhaps answer some of the questions I ask when I'm contemplating investing time and money into a book.