Murder By Death has already mentioned the deceptively-covered Mercy Thompson series, so I'm going with another series I avoided for well over a year.
I have something of an addiction to the Dresden Files (don't judge), but if you think it's bad now, you should have seen me when I had first read them. TDF was my first taste of hardboiled urban fantasy, and I was utterly enchanted by the genre.
I continually solicited recommendations on GR for non-romance-oriented hardboiled/magical detective urban fantasy to act as TDF methadone (stop judging), and a name that kept coming up over and over was the Felix Castor series.
"It's like TDF, only not as funny, and without the wacky kitchen-sink-style magic world, and way darker, and kind of nihilistic, and very antireligious," I was told.
This was not precisely the sales pitch of the century for me. My favourite aspect of urban fantasy is the weird and the amusing and creative. I detest nihilism, and while I'm not religious, I find a certain variety of sneering athiesm as infuriating as those books that tell me that I'm going to hell in a handbasket.
And so The Devil You Know remained unread until one day, I stumbled across a used copy for $0.75. Even I was willing to risk that much on a long shot. Plus, I had a weird desire to attempt to read every single major male-protagonist UF book out there (I gave up, but my uf-gotta-catch-em-all shelf attests to the attempt), which meant that at some point, I'd just have to grit my teeth and encounter The Devil You Know.
I quickly discovered that while the terms of the recommendation were not precisely false, they were also utterly inaccurate. Although the world isn't a kitchen sink, it is creative and fully conceived. Although the circumstances are far from amusing, Castor's witty, cynical, and sarcastic narration often provides a needed lighter touch. Standard Castor fare:
“You know, I'm like Avis rent-a-car: Because I'm insignificant, I try harder.”
The nihilism, too, is far from clear-cut. Castor is the archetypal hardboiled protagonist, a tarnished hero attempting--and often failing-- to salvage something from a broken world. The first book is indeed extremely antireligious, but it is anger rather than derision, which makes a huge difference to little ol' agnostic me. While the first book is mostly just a good noir detective story, the series itself develops into something more. Unlike the protagonists of so many other series, Castor doesn't really "power up," but the problems he faces become increasingly more difficult and more personal, culminating in the marvellous Thicker than Water.
I'm eternally grateful that I gave the series a chance, however unwillingly.
I reviewed the first one ages ago, right here*.
*Yes, I know the title is awkward, but one of my personal jokes was to inject an Eliot quote into every review.