Pack of Lies by laura anne gilman

Read  December 2017
Recommended for fans of CSI, urban fantasy
★    ★    ★  

I have to tell you, reviews I wrote in 2011 were pretty shitty. Bad enough that I only had the vaguest idea of the plot. So, I’ve erased 2011 and decided to be more explicit. You’re welcome, Future carol.

The second in a series, Pack of Lies continues to center on Bonita Torres and her work with a team of investigators. Nine months ago, she and a group of four other people were recruited by a couple of best friends to become the first-ever magical forensic examiners, occupying a strictly non-partisan line in a magical community full of politics. They’ve had a couple of jobs since the first book, but when the team is called to a fresh crime scene, they jump without looking, viewing it as an opportunity to finally gain credibility. The crime is a sexual attack on a young woman and an impassioned defense by her companion, resulting in one of the attacker’s deaths. In the background, the anti-fatae sentiment seems to be growing among the Talented humans in the community.

Plotting improves significantly in this book, with a much more investigation-centered plot and a crime that actually seems to make sense. There’s a few twists to the crime, and a wonderful, bittersweet air to the resolution that is satisfying, even as it saddens. So kudos to that part; I really wanted to know what happened.

That said, I found it mildly eye-rolling (must we?) that an attempted rape/attack on a female is the centerpiece of the investigation, and that it ends up having such a profound effect on both Bonita and her teammate Sharon. Although, to give Gilman credit, she also notes Pietr had a strong reaction to the scene. While it may be true, it’s such a stereotype to have it continue to color the women and their reactions. It just felt old-school, one-step removed sexism that continued to emphasize the victimness of the woman. Bringing Pietr in only mitigated it slightly, because his emotional reaction was dropped to focus on the women’s.

The romantic sub-plot of this book starts to intrude more into the main plot, with Bonita and one of the team leaders, Ben, finally acknowledging their connection. While there’s some progression, again, I don’t think it’s the kind of plotting that paranormal fans would enjoy as it is a secondary storyline with little payoff.

The writing style is very similar to the first book, with improvements in plotting helping it along. Gilman is very much of the story-telling school of narration. There’s some dialogue, but mostly we’re listening to Bonita or team leader Ben think things through. The Ben-narrated bits are short and mostly give us a little more insight into another underlying conflict as well as heightening the romantic tension.

The beginning of the story suffers a great deal from this sort of story-telling, as Gilman doesn’t know when to cut it short, and Bonita thinks some of the same things in different ways. For instance, the significance to the team of being called to an active crime scene is remarked upon quite a bit–in her head. I suppose the reader is supposed to empathize with Bonita’s feeling of internal pressure. This is the kind of thing that could have been taken care of with a little dialogue that would have given us more insight into other characters and more interest, period. I’m starting to see why so many reviewers thought it an unmemorable type of book; this style of narration lends itself to distance, and the lack of dialogue only encourages passivity.

The upshot, however, is that it’s rather unusual to have a team of people who play equal roles in an urban fantasy. That’s kind of a nice dynamic to see, and usually isn’t complicated by the normal petty stuff many authors fall pray to (forced misunderstandings, personal drama over professional focus). It’s a little annoying that there’s still so much maleness around, and that despite hearing about Bonita being bisexual, we have little evidence of her scoping out women the way she does men (she considers a fatae male partner, refuses an offer to meet a woman partner, but does find a male partner). It honestly just doesn’t feel like women are really integrated into the story, existing more as tokens (contrast again with my new fandom of Stephen Aryan who has more female than male main characters).

So, the non-dynamic storytelling (low re-readibility, despite my 2011 review) and lack of truly progressive character dynamics mean it’s not personal library-worthy. Still, the plotting, generally intriguing set-up and non-full-on-irritatingness mean its a worthy UF distraction read. On Stephen’s scale, that makes it a ‘borrow.’

About thebookgator

avid reader and Goodreads reviewer looking for a home.
This entry was posted in Book reviews, fantasy, Urban fantasy and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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