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Set in an alternative contemporary London where Tribers (Demons, Witches and Vampires) have been an accepted part of society for centuries, “Dire Straits” tells the story of Bo Blackman, a bottom-rung-of-the-ladder investigator at the Dire Straits detective agency, who is set up for a murder charge when she attempts to serve a summons on a demon.
“Dire Straits” is excellent Urban Fantasy by any standard: it gives a new and convincing take on Vampires, Witches and Demons; it has a complicated, well thought through plot that kept me hungry to know what would happen next while feeding me action, tension, and emotional upheaval along the way and the main character is engaging as much for her flaws as for her strengths.
My enjoyment of all these attributes was greatly increased by the fact that the book is set in London, which means that, as a Brit, I can clearly see where fantasy has been skillfully grafted on to reality. Most of the Urban Fantasy I read is set in the US. I’ve traveled and worked there enough to be able to recognize Butcher’s Chicago or Andrew’s Atlanta but I know that there are many cultural nuances that I miss. With “Dire Straits”, it’s as if I’m moved to the 3D, HD, Surround Sound version of Urban Fantasy. These are people I recognise, even if they are Vampires or Demons.
“Dire Straits” has a very English tone, with different attitudes to conflict (at least in public), strong links to class-based elites, a very different, non-gun-carrying kind of police force, and neat twists that apply British attitudes to race and immigration to Tribers, even quoting Enoch Powell’s “Rivers of Blood” speech. London provides an atmospheric backdrop for the action, including mansions that Vampires have owned for centuries and a very dramatic scene set inside Big Ben. British humour and wordplay makes the dialogue richer and British swearing takes it well outside the US romance writers’ guidelines. Still, Josh Whedon was able to slip words like “Bugger” and “Sod off” into “Buffy” scripts because the American censors didn’t understand them. I wonder what they’d make of the recurring use of “Smegging Hell” here? They’d probably object to the “Hell” part.
The Vampires and Witches in the book are very English. The Vampires put on a front of being upper class Eton and Oxford types who would regard it as bad form to lose control in public. Quite different from the almost-Mafia image Vampires are often given. The Witches come across as eccentric Glastonbury Festival meets Alternative Intellectual types.
Part of the plot is set in what, in American Urban Fantasy, might be a Vampire Academy, except that the main character is desperate NOT to become a Vampire, the Vampire tutors inflict death-by-PowerPoint in nightly training sessions and the “students” range from upper class privileged types through to total Chavs.
In England, names mean a lot. When J.K. Rowling names a character Dolores Umbridge we all know what to expect: someone who spreads sadness and takes offense easily. Helen Harper chooses her names with care but one of them made me stumble. A lawyer in the story is called Harry D’Agneau (pardon me if the spelling is wrong – I listened to the audiobook). I think the name is meant to make him exotic, posh but something of an outsider, perhaps like Michael Portillo. The problem is that the name translates literally to Harry of Lamb. I kept thinking of him as Larry the Lamb. Not at all the image that was intended.
I was disappointed in Tantor Press’ choice of narrator. This book cried out for an English narrator like Emma Fielding or Finty Williams, who could have extracted every ounce of class difference from the various accents. Tantor chose Saskia Maarleveld, who comes from New Zealand. She is a very good narrator but she can’t sustain the English accents over the whole book. I looked up the narrator because I couldn’t figure out why Bo Blackman’s accent ranges from “I went to a very good public school” through to “I’ve recently returned from a few years in Australia”. Saskia Maarleveld also lacks the range to differentiate the voices of the many male characters, a curious number of whom seem to be Irish or Welsh, although the text gives no indication of this. I still enjoyed listening to Saskia Maarleveld but I felt that I was missing out on the performance that could have been there.
I devoured “Dire Straits” in a couple of days. It works as a stand-alone novel with a satisfying ending. The good news is that it’s the first in a series with a set of long story arcs. So far this month I’ve read two more: “New Order” and “High Stakes” and each was better than the last. I’m now waiting for the fourth book, “Red Angel” to be released as an audiobook.
9 of 9 people found this review helpful
Any additional comments?
Bo Blackman isn’t going to win a ‘Detective of the Year’ contest, but she stumbles upon a case that has to be solved because her life depends on it. Bo is likeable, and I was happy to follow her through her adventure, sometimes cringing at her detective skills, but regardless it was a good read. It gave an interesting spin on the vampire world, and didn’t go overboard on emotions or romance. I shall look forward to reading the next instalment.
4 of 4 people found this review helpful
Would you consider the audio edition of Dire Straits to be better than the print version?
I have to say that the reader truly got into the characters. I was able to keep them all separate just by the voice that was used. Very enjoyable.
Who was your favorite character and why?
Bo Blackman is my favorite character. She really grows and blossoms through all the books and I can relate to her in many of the situations she finds herself in with difficult decisions to make and not always having the best answer.
What about Saskia Maarleveld’s performance did you like?
She truly did a good job bringing out the characters that made it easy for the listeners to tell who is speaking before the narrations tells them. Very good.
Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?
Many sections made me laugh and cry. You will have to listen for yourself to see if the book moves you as much as it did me.
Any additional comments?
This series has grabbed my attention and held it. The characters are well rounded and fun to follow. There is joy, sorrow and anger inspired by the situations and it will hold your attention as well. Hope you enjoy as much as I do!
16 of 17 people found this review helpful
The narrator is excellent she has the voice for romance but doesn't give it too much burn for us male readers. You can still hold on to what dignity you have this is not girl porn....yet. It has like 3 uncomfortable scenes at most well within the threshold of not trashy. It will start the engines for the ladies I'm sure but not being one I'll let them speak to that.
The combat is a bit jarring, a super powerful character can fall to a half dead much weaker character without the need for surprise or deceit which throws those of us who expect things to make a bit more sense.
The story line itself namely the mystery is not given away with too obvious foreshadowing and the twists and clues really draw you in. In addition, the main character isn't super perfect and stumbles trough making mistakes and coming out through grit and determination that brings you to feel for her even as you groan at her all too human failings.
well rounded full bodied and burns going down like a good wine.
32 of 35 people found this review helpful