The Magician’s Daughter
A Valentine Hill Mystery
Poisoned Pen Press, February 2015
It is rare for a reviewer of crime fiction to encounter a truly fresh protagonist with a unique voice. Reviewers are reluctant to say so because we haven’t read everything, but I’m sticking my neck out here to suggest Valentine Hill, a busking, itinerant street magician with heady aspirations, is that character. She’s blunt, honest to a fault, scrappy, young and aggressive when necessary. She’s in Las Vegas as the tale begins, in the middle of a nine-year search for her mother. Not out of love, but because of some vital missing information in her life. Valentine wants a social security number and she wants to know her birthdate, her father’s name and where she was born. Her mother, Elizabeth is a grifter, highly adaptable, a consummate but amoral actress who used and abused her daughter, Valentine, in prior scams.
Valentine has learned from those experiences and become an honest magician, struggling through life. She learns her mother is probably in San Francisco. Her plans to go there are upset by her companion who steals her stash and disappears. When Valentine tracks her mother to an apartment in Pacific Heights, her world dissolves into mayhem, murder, multiple law enforcement operations and several characters who are not what they seem.
The novel is relentless, positing solution after explanation that dissolve almost as rapidly as they are presented, leaving the reader guessing as much as does poor Valentine. But then, even as the danger escalates, things begin to sort themselves and some really bad guys get conned out of their shorts. A fast, coherent, fully enjoyable novel featuring a young, vibrant protagonist. Highly recommended.
Reviewed by Carl Brookins, January 2015.
Author of Red Sky, Devils Island, Hard Cheese, Reunion.
Chicken House, September 2013
Beginning with our main character waking from a coma to devastating news; totally unrelated to the current crisis: roaming diseased humans (whose behaviors suspiciously mimic those of the Late-Night-Movie Zombies); I certainly did not think, “Wow, this is going to be a fun read!”. Intriguing, fast-paced, action-adventure: sure; fun, no.
I was so very, very wrong. I find myself still ridiculously impressed and pleased that Ms. McKay presented Bobby’s story in such a fashion. This sequel to Undead is consuming. Comprised of small, deliberate mysteries, complete with obscure, baffling clues; this reader’s mind never strayed.
The display of dynamics within the small group of teens, forced together, just to have a glimmer of hope against the Zombie-like crowd is spot-on. Underlying currents: wariness, jealously, admiration, fear and sadness, swirl around the characters, twisting, enveloping and confusing. Churning emotions decrease focus, increase discord, frustration and distrust.
With the action-adventure aspect of physical battles between teens and Zoms, the mystery of where Bobby’s best friend, Smitty, is hiding (assuming he is still alive); never-minding the why of Bobby’s mom abandoning her; comatose, alone in a strange hospital, and pants-less; to run off and hide Smitty; it is so easy to be drawn in and invested in the tale. With the shocking revelation that The Enemy is quite likely made up of both Good Guys and Bad Guys, it becomes nearly impossible to stop reading.
These attributes are almost secondary to Ms. McKay’s charming and delightful writing style. As if the author feels immediate remorse for scaring (or grossing out) her audience, in comes the comic relief, effortlessly. A perfect fit, the humor enriches the entire book, keeping the tone from dropping to down-right dismal. Unexpected joy came from Bobby’s predicament of being pants-less, thus flashing her pals as she fights for her life, or making hilarious and embarrassing suctioning noises as naked thighs stick to a desk-top on which Bobby perches. Chastising herself harshly when Smitty-themed fantasies sneak into her mind; coupled with her comfortable and correct use of “dorky” endeared me to Bobby.
Although I started this trilogy right in the middle, I simply must know how Bobby’s story ends. I am already looking forward to Ms. McKay’s next book.
Reviewed by jv poore, July 2014.