Monday, June 14, 2010

Heart of Stone, by C.E. Murphy

Heart of Stone
Occasionally I experiment with picking up a new author's work at the bookstore, and that's what I did with C.E. Murphy's Heart of Stone. Murphy appears to have several series in progress, and this is the first one in The Negotiator. The premise of these books is that there are some of the Old Races living among us, and that we are for the most part unaware of their presence. Nothing new here, really, except that instead of the usual suspects Murphy has elected to use some supernatural beings that, for the most part, ordinarily aren't part of the "in" crowd of todays urban fantasies. The Old Races that are living in New York City in Heart of Stone are Gargoyles, Dragons, Djinns, Selkies and Vampires.

There's a nice nod here to traditional elements of magic in that the Gargoyles represent Earth, the Djinn Air, the Dragons Fire and the Selkies Water. At one point in the book the heroine, Margrit, asks what worldly element the Vampires display, and learns that they are "not of this world". No word yet on whether they're from another planet, an alternate universe, or some sort of spiritual realm.

Another thing that's interesting is that our heroine, Margrit - or "Grit", is of a despised race...Lawyers. To Murphy's credit, some obvious puns were avoided in the dialog. A character could have asked something like, "Is that True, Grit?" or, after she gets beaten up by a crazed female gargoyle, one of her visitors in the hospital could have exclaimed, "Grit, your teeth!" But I digress.

Grit likes to run in Central Park for exercise, and she has a bad habit of doing it after dark. One evening she is surprised by a gentleman who appears abruptly near her, and they have a brief but tense conversation. The next morning she sees on the news that a woman with a similar physical description to hers has been murdered in the park, and the suspect's description matches that of her mysterious acquaintance.

Grit has an on and off again romantic relationship with a detective on the New York police force, Tony, and she informs him that she may have met the murderer. Tony tries to investigate this new lead, but Grit seems determined to jump in the middle of things, and she's visited again by the suspect, Alban, who turns out to be a gargoyle, and who, of course, claims to be innocent. In what appears to be a separate plot, Grit takes the case of a homeless woman trying to fight City Hall. The building in which she and other squatters live is being torn down by its owner, and Grit tries to get an injunction against him.

Eventually, Grit gets to meet a representative or two of all of the Old Races, and she works hard to get to the bottom of the mystery and find the real killer. The pace of the novel varied too much from frantic to lackadaisical, and I didn't find myself, at the end, with an irresistible desire to grab the next book in the series to find out what happens next. This could have just been a "setup" novel, getting us ready to accept the premise of Grit as The Negotiator, a human lawyer who can act as an advocate between the Old Races, when the human legal system cannot.

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