No Humans Involved by Kelley Armstrong
Published by Orbit, May 2007
Review by Mark Yon / Hobbit
Even to the casual genre observer, it can’t have escaped your attention that romantic supernatural fiction has been quite prevalent over the last few years. From Laurell K Hamilton to Jim Butcher, from Rachel Caine to Tanya Huff, there seems to be quite an appetite for such novels.
Into this list we must add Kelley Armstrong. Kelly has had six books published to date since 2001, beginning with Bitten. Her latest, No Humans Involved, is (by process of elimination!) her seventh. And no doubt as a sign of her success, this is the first one available as a UK hardback.
At first, the general outline of the story seems very similar to a lot of other books by authors such as those mentioned above. The world is clearly our own with recognisable names, places and characteristics, but with fantasy elements intertwined and overlaid. Though the world appears outwardly ‘normal’ secret things are afoot most of us know little about.
This book mainly concerns Jaime Vegas, a middle-aged supernatural medium, working in the (rather unreal) environment of Los Angeles television. At the start of the book, Jaime begins work on a new television programme where mediums visit places where murders have been committed, hoping to contact the victims – in this case, Marilyn Monroe. Alongside her are two other presenters – a fading UK celebrity and a new hot-on-the-block wannabe starlet.
Whilst investigating the property pre-filming, Jaime begins to notice things that are wrong. She feels a presence in the property’s garden, sees a body hanging from a chandelier that no-one else sees and thinks something touches her arm when she’s not looking. For (unlike her two co-hosts) Jaime really is a medium and does see, meet and talk to ghosts from the past.
OK. The simplified outline given above may not initially inspire a reader. However, for fans of her previous work, this will, I think, have created major excitement. Some of the characters may be familiar from earlier books, though their role is relatively minor, away from the main action. Though it may be useful, you do not have to have read the earlier books to get an understanding of this one.
As an admittedly new reader to Kelley’s work, I was fairly impressed. I must say that even for someone who has had no experience of the real LA or the other places visited in the book, the plot is written convincingly enough for me to be moved there whilst reading the narrative. The style is clipped and precise, fast-paced and cynical-smart.
There are quite gruesome scenes to keep any fan of CSI interested. (Indeed, the book knowingly at one point calls its investigations ‘Supernatural CSI’.) There are some scenes that are quite unpleasant and may not be for the squeamish, most notably a black magic session witnessed by Jaime. However the high death and gore count seems to be something that keeps readers interested, and clearly Kelly knows this. In that regard she does not disappoint.
Just to complicate things further, the book also examines Jaime’s relationship with Jeremy, a no doubt conveniently good-looking stud who just so happens to be a werewolf. Sex is a key aspect of these types of books (look at the Anita Blake stories!); and in this one there is a great deal of sexual tension built up through the book between Jaime and Jeremy. Fans of the series will probably appreciate this aspect of the story, whilst I was less impressed. Some of the scenes between the two will titillate, amuse or make the reader wince. In my case, they were more of the latter
- though I’m sure other reader’s reactions will vary from mine.
However, in terms of strengths, characterisation is what works here, and it feels as if events in this book have been a long time coming. (No pun intended.) Kelley does a convincing job of showing Jaime as a lady with a difficult background and as someone who, having worked in media for a while, is rather jaded. (Again, this aspect of hero/heroine with personal issues seems to be a common theme.)
In summary, a well written book in a series that I think will be well received by fans of Kelley’s earlier books. I missed the humour of Jim Butcher’s books myself, but I have no doubt that if you want a dark, creepy book of sexy urban magic, with a side-order of grue, well written and paced, then this one by Kelley will do the trick.
Hobbit, May 2007.
Copyright © sffworld.com. If quoted please credit "sffworld.com, name of reviewer".