There are times when making a healthy, fresh meal seems like too much work, times when munching on white cheddar popcorn and enjoying a drink seems like an acceptable substitute for a meal. It isn’t in the long run, of course, but as an occasional treat it works. The Black Knight Chronicles are the popcorn in the UF world. To me, Hartness managed the tricky feat of creating the tension a mystery requires without negating the seriousness of the situation for the victims.
Best friends James Black and Greg Knightwood IV are vampires making their living (so to speak) as private investigators. There’s been a series of seeming hate crimes in North Carolina where six gay men have been found badly beaten. Details surrounding the scenes lead Detective Sabrina to suspect a supernatural angle, so she enlists the duo to help. We meet them on the way to Lilith’s (yes, that one) supernatural strip club, but this is about as far away from True Blood’s Fangtasia as one can get. I read the first two chapters with raised eyebrow, but I was committed when the chapter ended with this giggle-worthy toss-off:
“I slid into the backseat and lay down as best I could. Greg had a towel behind his seat, because he’s a hoopy frood that way, so I tried to put the bloodiest parts of me on the towel to save the upholstery.”
Characterization is decent, especially given humorous overtones. Greg and James have been buddies for most of their lives, along with Mike the priest, and their banter has the fond familiarity of classic bro-mance. I also appreciated that James is aware he’s the muscle of the group and doesn’t resent the others for their direction or help. James admires Greg even as he mocks him, and the respect–for the most part– for Greg’s ethical code helps elevate the story’s tone at the same time it goes for laughs:
“Sometimes my partner is really perceptive, something that’s easy to overlook when he wraps himself in black spandex, which happens more often that it should.”
The storyline takes an unusual turn with the crime. Per the genre norm, Detective Sabrina becomes personally involved when one of the victims is her cousin. A backstory is revealed that makes the connection even more personal. However, a major plot twist develops that takes the story in initially pun-ishing directions when another supernatural group becomes involved. At first, I rolled my eyes. I had scanned a review or two before reading, but had forgotten that detail, noting only that I may not appreciate the direction it took. It turned out, once the pun-ish idiocy (pardon me) was left behind, it became a reasonably interesting story. There’s a bit of fantasy world-building that seems a little bit oddly juxtaposed but works, as well as a modern action sequence to ramp up the tension. It’s possible that there’s a little too much of kitchen sink in the story, but what do you expect from popcorn?
I frequently have anticipatory nervousness when I run into a book that tries to combine humor with sensitive issues. Gay-bashing and shaming is a very real issue, and I was on the alert for signs the author was going to be dismissive. I ended up enjoying this one. There’s a few preachy points but not overly intrusive, and it seemed Harkness was generally able to be respectful while maintaining a fun tone. I’d certainly welcome other insights and experiences if anyone want to share thoughts.