Thursday, January 15, 2009

NEW TRICKS

NEW TRICKS
By John Levitt
Ace Fantasy
321 pages

This is the second book in a series begun last year by writer John Levitt about a jazz guitarist named Mason and his dog, Louie. They live and work, at least Mason does, in the Castro district of San Francisco. Mason is also a practitioner of real magic and uses his talents, along with his mentors, Eli and Victor, in maintaining the peace among the city’s magic people. Since they prefer to keep their talents from the normal public, this can be a very delicate balancing act. Fortunately for Mason he is one of the few practitioners aided by a magic creature known as an Ifrit. In this case, his small Russell Terrier, Lou.

I enjoyed this pair’s debut in DOG DAYS and was eagerly anticipating their further adventures. Perhaps my expectations were too high. The trouble with books that mix genres is that they are obligated to fulfill two distinct purposes. Whereas this series is a fantasy, it must explore those elements to a greater degree with each new book and NEW TRICKS delivers on that front wonderfully. During the course of the story we are introduced to all manner of new magical creatures and alien locales that added much to the enjoyment of this read.

Unfortunately the book is also a mystery, much like most dark fantasy series these days. Which is where the book fails miserably. At the start we learn that an unknown black magician has tried to steal the body of one of Mason’s former girlfriends, another practitioner. This unknown assailant failed, but in the process left the woman brain dead. Mason and his friends immediately set about hunting this malevolent magician and soon several suspects emerge in classic mystery form; one of them is the mind killer, the others red herrings. The process is to then follow Mason throughout the book as he assembles clues, escapes attacks on himself and Lou and ultimately puts everything together to expose the murderer. Of course a few other innocent practitioners are murdered along the way.

Levitt’s writing is very solid and he does infuse a great deal of personality into both Mason and that dog. In fact I would guess most readers will end up liking Lou better than his human sidekick. But sadly I knew the killer’s identity within just a few pages of that character’s entry into the narrative. And thus I found myself very annoyed that it took Mason the entire rest of the book to come to the same conclusion. Bad mysteries tend to make the hero appear less than brilliant and that should be avoided at all cost.

In the end, I’m still going to recommend picking up NEW TRICKS, but for the magical aspects of the book and the series as a whole. Levitt has left many things still unanswered about this pair and I am intrigued enough to stay with this. But because of the lame mystery element, this one gets only a marginal pass.

4 comments:

Barry Reese said...

Interesting... the cover doesn't really grab me but the premise is worth a look.

Ron Fortier said...

Hi Barry, thanks for stopping by.
Although NEW TRICKS can stand alone, you might want to dig up DOG DAYS as well. Oh, and you might be interested to know the book I'm now reading is called THE ROOK by some writer whose name escapes...ha, just kidding. Stay tuned.

Barry Reese said...

The Rook... Yeah, I know that series. It's written by some hack, I believe. I've heard it gets better as the series goes along. :-)

Martin said...
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