This Case Is Gonna Kill Me (Linnet Ellery #1)
Imagine a place where the lawyers are literal bloodsuckers, movie star glamor isn't just a metaphor, and where the top CEOs really are "lead wolves". Welcome to Linnet Ellery's world. In the 1960s, the fantastic creatures came out of hiding, and humans discovered that vampires, werewolves, and elves weren't only real but were effectively running the world. It's now 2010, and most humans have become accustomed to a world led by these "spooks," or, to use the politically correct term, "the Powers." Most law firms are led by immortal vampires and promotion to partnership involves receiving a bite as well as an office upstairs. Powerful human families vie to send their children to live with vampires as their "foster lieges." Werewolves are running both the military and Wall Street with animal savagery. Elves (called Alfar) split their time between bewitching humans on stage and screen and carrying children off to Faerie.
Linnet, child of a wealthy family from the American aristocracy, was sent at the age of eight to live with a vampire as her "foster liege." Now a recently graduated hotshot lawyer, she's starting her new job at a prestigious White Fang law firm. It turns out that her application was utilized in a power struggle between the firm's partners, so while she was hired, she's been shunted aside to work under the slovenly Chip Westin on a dead end, 17-year-old arbitration battle over an inheritance. Her co-workers, already scornful and dismissive of Chip, see Linnet as a patronage hire and go out of their way to make her life miserable. But Linnet's struggles to fit in with her co-workers are abruptly cut off when a werewolf invades and brutally murders her boss. Now forced to take over all of his cases and plagued with the fear that she's next on the killers' list, Linnet is determined to solve the crime. Her life swiftly becomes a balance of legal battles at the firm and bizarre escapes from death as she goes to greater and greater lengths to discover the secrets behind her boss's death.
I really enjoyed reading this. When I picked it up, almost the entirety of my experience with urban fantasy was of the trenchcoat-wearing, mean-streets-walking variety, and I found this book to be a breath of fresh air. The basic premise--a broken masquerade in which the vampires and werewolves have grabbed control of various aspects of society-- is not so different from the worlds of Mercy Thompson and Kate Daniels, but the flow of the story is entirely dissimilar. A light legal thriller rather than a hardboiled mystery, some of the adventures are quite improbable, but I got so caught up in the enjoyment of the world that I just didn't care. Not only is this the first time I've come across the combination of a legal thriller and urban fantasy, but rather than the UF standard exploration of the "seedy underbelly" of a city, this takes place among the richest, most privileged members of society. For me, at least, a world where people own $800 shoes and enjoyable exercise involves taking a Grand Prix horse out for a gallop was just as bizarre and fantastical as the vampire lawyers, and I liked seeing a glimpse of it. In some ways, I thought the world was too similar to the present; I would have preferred the intrusion of the Powers to have made more of a difference in the way the world developed. For example, wouldn't the radical changes in power have warped the development of, say, laptops, the internet, Facebook, or Starbucks? At the same time, I thought the presentation of the creative and subtle changes to the world was great. Restaurants keep "fresh stock" to feed their inhuman guests. Police carry shock collars to subdue rogue werewolves. The human gesture of submission to a vampire, which involves exposing the jugular, has become commonplace. Linnet is accustomed to the status quo and presents this world with its subservient human population, as natural and reasonable.
I found Linnet a sympathetic character and enjoyed her interactions with most of the incidental characters, from her surly vampire co-worker to the Sam Spadelike elf PI. Bornikova also presented a slightly more diverse world than is usually seen in the typically virulently homophobic UF: Linnet's best friends are a gay couple who are presented as both supportive and endearing. The book is definitely not a romance. There is a bit of a romantic sideplot; however, there are probably less than ten pages of (to me) uncomfortably amorous language--far less than The Dresden Files or most of the other UFs that I have read. The story isn't for everyone and, with its strong feminist slant, is probably geared more towards female readers. One moment in particular made me want to cheer out loud would probably be dismissed as a "girl power scene" by my male friends. Linnet is seduced, then thrown aside, by a vampire who has preyed upon every woman in the office. Rather than being shamed into silence, she breaks the silence, calls him out on it, vows to warn any incoming women, and reports his ensuing sexual harassment. Any sort of harassment complaint in a male-dominated field takes a massive amount of guts. I also LOVE that this guy is portrayed as an asshole rather than a sexy and desirable 'player'. In any other UF, he probably would have seduced her and then become the love interest.] I actually appreciated the way that Bornikova opened some unanswered mysteries and left the ending as a bit of a cliffhanger (although still very satisfying). The plot still felt tight to me; the unsolved details just felt like allusions to a larger world that Bornikova already has completely mapped out. Overall, I'd recommend this to anyone looking for a strong female protagonist with minimal romance or a totally new spin on the UF genre. I just can't wait for the sequel!
A high 4, but not quite a 4.5. Call it a 4.4.
Note: I received this book through the Goodreads First Reads promotional program.
Oh, one fun fact: in the book, Linnet notes repeatedly that she has dark hair. On my ARC, she had dark hair. Sometime between ARC and bookstore, she went blonde. Does anyone but me find that vaguely disturbing?