Sleight of Hand by Mark Henwick
An Amber Farrell Novel, Bite Back #1
“For Amber Farrell, post-military life as a PI has its ups and downs: She’s been hit by a truck. She’s being sued by a client. Denver’s newest drug lord just put out a contract on her. The sinister Athanate want her to come in for a friendly chat. And it’s only Tuesday.”
Now we’re talking. Occasionally, we get a pitch in our inbox that we just can’t resist. And Henwick’s urban fantasy novel blurb brought it home. It also left me quaking on my canary perch: Book, please, please, don’t go the vampire-werewolf-cookie-cutter plot route.
Sleight of Hand takes a stab at a some intriguing new ideas in the paranormal genre. Sure, we have a private detective main character, and yea, we have vampires and witches and werewolves and…the US army? Yes, you heard right!
Sergeant Amber Farrell was forced to retire after an attack that left her for dead in the South American jungles. Now she’s living the PI dream of barely making rent, is stalked by a veteran affairs official who wants to pin her for disability fraud, haunted by the rising levels of a foreign chemical in her blood, and is trying to insinuate herself into the vampire community. Oh and a super-rich CEO wants Amber to investigate some rather suspicious sabotage in her company, and the army can’t wait for Amber to slip up so they can lock her up and use her as a super-special guinea pig template for genetically engineered supersoldiers, or whatever it is that government scientists do in their free time.
Like many set-up novels, Sleight of Hand struggles to juggle plot and character development with the Everything that it wants to show us. The story had quite a lot of moving parts, both normal and paranormal. However, the complexity of the plot is balanced by a strong heroine that’s a breath of fresh air. She doesn’t angst–she kicks ass. Think Anita Blake, before things got weird.
More than that, the character relationships and subplots reeled me in: there’s David, a vampire-to-be and maybe-ally; there’s Kath, the main character’s estranged sister who doesn’t believe Amber was ever in the army; and there’s the colonel in charge of keeping Amber in line and under the army’s thumb. Will I be reading the next book? Hell yeah, I wanna know more about the havoc that Amber’s downward spiral into the dangerous paranormal will play on her family life.
That said, the story did itself a disservice by bringing in the two romance subplots and opening the floor for a possible love triangle (love triangles, not a fan). Because of the quick pacing and the sheer amount of things happening, the romantic relationships felt like an afterthought at best, and were introduced too quickly to stand well on their own feet. But it was an minor issue that reared its hydra head only near the end of the book, so don’t let that alone dissuade you.
Check it out and see what you think of Amber. Me, I’m looking forward to meeting her again in Henwick’s sequel, Hidden Trump, when it comes out.
Review copy generously provided by author.
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