August 29th, 2012


This Case Is Gonna Kill Me, by Phillipa Bornikova

Review copy provided by Tor.

This cover basically says, "GO AWAY NO MRISSAS WANTED." It's got a random blonde starlet in a business suit staring vacantly at the viewer in front of a cityscape (although I do like cities), and then there's the title. Then. There's. The. Title. It's all cutesy. It's. It's. It's, like--it would be worse if it was a headless woman and her tattoos and her butt. But it's pretty much, "Here's an urban fantasy! Not the kind like War for the Oaks, mind you! The other kind!" And that thing people say about not judging books by their covers, that's errant nonsense, because despite the occasional despairing cries of authors with crappy covers, mostly books do not have random crappy covers. The art department is trying to convey something important with a cover. They are telling you who they think will want this book. Answer: not me.

And yet: when I get a review book, I open it and read at least the first bit. I don't review books I don't find good enough to read, but I do actually see whether the book is good enough to read, not just the cover art or my theories about the author's previous work or etc. And also: the marketing copy claimed it was a debut, and I like to give debut writers a chance. (This was not true. Phillipa Bornikova is a pen name for an author who is accomplished in other sub-genres. Which is not a strike against the book, and it's how the industry goes these days.) But at the time I picked the book up, okay, new author, fair shot, let's go.

And despite my reaction to the cover, despite my conviction that this would be Not My Thing...I kept reading. And I read the whole thing. And I would probably read a sequel.

Sure, there were blips. And sure, the premise is gimmicky and right smack in the middle of urban fantasy as it's currently defined, not really treading much new ground. A vampire law firm. It really is about a vampire law firm. There's not something that makes it...not about a vampire law firm, so if you see those words and run away, I can't make you turn around and run back. Their private investigator is an elf. There are evil werewolves on the attack. And it's a vampire law firm.

And if you look at that and say, "Well, if the writer knows her way around a sentence, that might be fun," bingo, you're on for a book, because with the exception of the aforementioned blips, she does know her way around a sentence. And I went from thinking "this is going to be terrible, I'm just going to glance at the first page before I put it in the basket to give away" to thinking "this could have been really quite good instead of pretty good, I wish it had gone that extra mile." That surprised me quite pleasantly.

I think the thing that prevented me from feeling it had gone the extra mile was the worldbuilding around the taboo about who can become vampires or werewolves in this world. It was hard to tell whether this was going to be background worldbuilding or central to the plot, from the way the characters treated it, and it ended up feeling like it was kind of stuck in a middle ground of importance. As a result, the ending felt abrupt, an installment-ending rather than a stand-alone ending. And that was a shame, because everything else was pretty minor, but..."how important is this to the story you're trying to get at here?" is a critique-group question that, if I feel like I have to ask it a lot when reading a finished book, is a problem. It's not a problem that has to prevent you from having fun with a vampire lawyer book if you have a mind to, though.