Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Heart of Stone by C. E. Murphy

Margrit Knight is a Legal Aid attorney who likes to jog in the park at night. But when a strange man approaches and speaks to her, she is freaked out, especially when she learns later that night that a man answering his description was seen crouching over the body of a murdered woman, and she immediately goes to her on-again/off-again Italian cop boyfriend, Tony, who yells at her for running in the park so late at night. Which is part of the reason why they are so on-again/off-again.

Tony has her make a sketch of the guy with the Police sketch artist, and finally lets her go back to her job in Legal Aid, where she is helping get a woman who killed her abusive husband pardoned by the governor.Later, she and her roommate and his fianceƩ go out clubbing, and she is approached by the man again at the club. He tells her he is innocent of the murder, and he tells her his name, Alban Korund, but she is freaked out enough that she screams. He disappears, however and the cops are once again called. Now she is curious about the man and asks to see the security tapes. But they show the man seeming to turn into a white streak going to the ceiling. How he can do this is unknown, but once again, Margrit is intrigued.

The woman Margrit is trying to get released is finally pardoned, and Margit is now famous... or at least well known, with her picture in the paper. To celebrate, her colleagues take her out drinking, and later that night she is also approached by a woman named Cara, who is in danger of being homeless when the building she is squatting in is torn down. It turns down that the building is owned by Eliseo Daisani, a notorious real estate developer. The very next day, Margrit goes to see Daisani, who offers her a job, which she turns down, and mentions out of the blue that he knows her mother, and she knows him. Margrit tells him she plans to get an injunction stopping the building being torn down, and he laughs at her bravado, wishing her well.

A few days afterwards, Tony and Margrit go to dinner, and she is nearly run over by a car while they are walking home, but is rescued by Alban, who takes her to a seedy apartment room. She is woozy from a knock to the head she sustained in the accident, and he begs to speak with her. He says he is innocent, but cannot go to the police, mainly because he isn't human... he's a gargoyle, and then he shows her in uncertain terms that he is speaking the truth. He cannot go to the police because he must remain in stone form during the daylight, sleeping, and if he is caught in his stone form by the police, not only will they destroy him, not understanding him, but commit genocide on the entire Gargoyle race.

Though her head isn't the best, she questions him, and learns he is one of the old races, of which there are only five left now: Djinni, Dragons, Gargoyles, Selkies and Vampires. He isn't responsible for the murders, but someone is, and Alban needs her help. Margrit does some checking, and finds that at least a dozen women have been murdered in a similar fashion in New York city over the past 200 years. Since that is longer than a human can live, she determines that Alban must be truthful and not be the one killing these women... until she finds that Alban is at least that old.

Meeting with him is troublesome, as their meetings keep getting interrupted by Tony, who becomes half-convinced that Margrit is connected with the murders somehow. He even takes her in, which puts a real kibosh on their relationship. In addition, Margrit is finding herself attracted to Alban, which confuses her a little, but she sees the same attraction in Alban, though neither are able to figure out how to broach it to the other.

Tony lets slip a name to her, Janx, and she tracks the man down in his club, where the doorman frightens her, and makes a bargain with the man, three favors for three favors, all in the form of questions to be answered. She asks him who might want to hurt Alban, and he gives her three names, and tells her he will use his connections to find others. One of the names is Grace O'Malley, named after a female Pirate, who is something of a folk hero for delivering vigilante justice on those who abuse the weak. The second is a name she is unfamilliar with: Biali, and the third is very familliar indeed: Eliseo Daisani.

Margrit keeps on digging, and finds that members of all five Old Races are living in the city. Indeed, she has had dealings with all of them. But a clue left at the scene of a murder of a woman in central park leads her to the most unusual suspect of all, Alban's former lover and mate, mortally wounded during the reign of terror in France. It seems that Hajnal, Alban's former mate, may still be alive, and taking revenge on women who resemble herself whom Alban was watching over.

But can Alban face the idea that his mate is still alive and has gone insane, killing women? More, can Margrit survive a killer that is not human, and who is stronger than stone, with clawed talons, someone who intends to make Margrit the next victim?

This was an unusual but extremely enjoyable series, with a heroine who doesn't have any supernatural powers, but has sheer determination and never stops digging for answers. Though she comes up against creatures that would drive any sane human weak with fear, she is usually able to use her attitude and courage to take them on regardless, usually earning the admiration of the member of the Old Race in question. And this stands her in good stead later on in the book.

I liked Margrit, although the book does play a little with the reader by not letting you know that Margrit is black until she blatantly says so to her boss. By the point she does so, however, you no longer see her as anything but Margrit, sassy lawyer and courageous woman. By that point, learning that she is black doesn't do anything but add a point of information to your knowledge about her, although it's again not until later in the back that she says she is/would be seen as an octoroon, or a very lightskinned black woman who could almost pass for white, if this was 200 years ago. She even comments that she could have been a placeƩ, or a white man's colored mistress.

Margrit is an absolutely kick-ass heroine, although her chops are mainly in the intelligence department, as well as having courage and an open mind. This is only the first book of what is going to be a three part series (or more, but only three books are mentioned so far) and I will definitely be reading them when I see them in the bookstore.

If you are looking for a paranormal or dark fantasy romance with a difference, or even an "urban fantasy", look no further than "Heart of Stone", which offers a great deal to love and lots to look forward to. I'll be waiting right there with you for more.

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