March 30, 2010 Books, Reviews 2 ★★★★½

Mark of the Demon by Diana Rowland
Cop and conjurer of demons, she's a woman in danger of losing control—to a power that could kill....Why me? Why now?

That’s what Beaulac, Louisiana, detective Kara Gillian was asking herself when an angelic creature named Rhyzkahl unexpectedly appeared during a routine summoning. Kara was hoping to use her occult skills to catch a serial killer, but never had she conjured anything like this unearthly beautiful and unspeakably powerful being whose very touch set off exquisite new dimensions of pleasure. But can she enlist his aid in helping her stop a killer who’s already claimed the lives—and souls—of thirteen people? And should she? The Symbol Man is a nightmare that the city thought had ended three years ago. Now he’s back for an encore and leaving every indication on the flesh of his victims that he, too, is well versed in demonic lore.

Kara may be the only cop on Beaulac’s small force able to stop the killer, but it is her first homicide case. Yet with Rhyzkahl haunting her dreams, and a handsome yet disapproving FBI agent dogging her waking footsteps, she may be in way over her head...
Series: Kara Gillian #1
Published by Random House Publishing Group on June 23rd 2009
Pages: 381
Format: Paperback
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I picked this one up off a table in Borders last year because the cover art was shiny. Not just “shiny” in the favorable Firefly sense, but actually SHINY in the light. I know, I know, don’t judge a book by its cover, but sometimes it actually turns out okay. Case and point, Rowland’s freshman debut. Getting an encouraging tag from another of my favorite supernatural-meets-mystery authors, Charlaine Harris, didn’t hurt either.

Mixing crime fiction with urban fantasy works for some and not for others. So far, Kate Daniels of Ilona Andrews’ “Magic” series and Joanne Walker of C.E. Murphy’s “The Walker Papers” seem to be doing well with it, and adding Rowland to this group of talent is no exception to the rule. Rowland’s protagonist, Kara Gillian, is a summoner: a person with the genetic predisposition and the training necessary to call forth other-planar creatures, known to this world as “demons”. However, demons are not innately good or evil, as that would require that they existed in a place with morality similar to our own. The author’s Voice of Reason, Kara’s aunt Tessa, reiterates that because no such morality exists on this other plane, demons should merely be treated with respect and honor as they require, and all summoners should be wary. Demons are self-serving, even though they abide by an honor code; and this doesn’t always mean good things for summoners. Therefore the rules that summoners follow to invite a demon into our realm are specific and obeyed explicitly.

Kara has finally become a full-fledged summoner, bringing into our realm a twelfth-level demon – the highest level that can be brought over. Riding the high of this success and her recent transfer out of Property Crimes and into Investigations, our Detective Gillian is saddled with her first big case. A killer referred to as the Symbol Man has apparently started killing again after a three year hiatus. Reluctant to link the new murders with the old (instead hoping for a copycat), a task force is formed, including FBI agent Ryan Kristoff of New Orleans. When Kara calls in a fourth-level demon for help in identifying the Symbol Man, something goes horribly wrong, and instead she confronts her very likely death as she faces a Demonic Lord. Lords are supposed to be impossible to summon, and as it wasn’t even her intent, she is increasingly suspicious when she is not made to fit into a plastic bag.

As her search for the Symbol Man includes dredging up her aunt’s past and dream visits from the Demon Lord Rhyzkahl, she also brings in her confusing friendship with Agent Ryan. As it turns out, everyone uses someone for something, and at the end, Kara is sure of nothing but that there are still lessons to learn and things she doesn’t know.

I found myself pulled into this from the beginning, but at the time, did not realize it was a series. The book wraps up all its loose ends, and gives you a feeling that while it COULD be continued, it doesn’t HAVE to be. Okay, so I really wanted it to, but it was neatly tied up so that I didn’t feel like the author had cheated me and was making me wait unknowable months before getting my answers. It helps that the author has a background in criminal investigation – and little moments like shedding light on how a photo can’t always be aged miraculously to lead directly to a killer like on television, gives the book a bit of brevity amidst scary serial-killer drama. There isn’t just one suspect for the murders, and mixing Kara’s supernatural abilities with her commonplace detective work isn’t easy. With Ryan double-checking her (and making himself a potential suspect), she has to tread carefully. The author does not make Kara take unnecessary risks, but she does make a common mistake or two. Kara is not perfect, and nothing is superheroine about her – which is possibly why she is so easy to relate to and enjoy as a main character. Rowland’s inherently encyclopaedic world of demons and their interaction with humans and summoners could have been slapped into the book and shoved down a reader’s throat, but instead it is deftly woven in, piece by piece. The reader doesn’t learn anything they don’t need to know until they know it, and having Agent Ryan around for Kara to explain things to helps the reader get the gist.

This was highly enjoyable, and color me delighted when I went into Borders this weekend and saw, blending into the stacks of new paperbacks just like its predecessor (but with that shiny accent that draws the eye), the second Kara Gillian novel, Blood of the Demon. Give me more!

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