by John Levitt
Cover Artist: Don Sipley
Review by Drew Bittner
Ace Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 9780441016563
Date: 25 November 2008 List Price $7.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
It's Halloween in the Castro district of San Francisco. For once, supernatural investigator Mason and his dog Lou don't have to worry about vampires and ghosts stalking the streets.
What they do have to worry about is how Mason's old flame Sarah became the victim of a magical attack, leaving her catatonic.
Mason's only clue is a green runestone found in her hand. Now Mason and Lou must track down a desperate killer before the next spell is cast...
You'd think being a magic practitioner and jazz guitarist in San Francisco would be the ideal life, wouldn't you? Especially if you have a magic not-quite-dog to help you out.
Mason might not agree with you. He's the guitarist/magician hero of New Tricks, author John Levitt's sequel to Dog Days. Mason has had a bad year; recent events have left him so deeply unsettled and lonely, he doesn't even want to play the guitar.
Which is when trouble starts up all over again. Answering a phone call from a friendly ex-girlfriend, Mason discovers her on a park bench--catatonic and clutching a green stone. Magical investigation reveals that her personality has been obliterated; she's nothing more than an empty shell. Victor and Eli, Mason's colleagues (and sometime mentors), believe that this attack is very similar to some trouble that occurred in Portland, Oregon, not long before.
Sure enough, Mason's old friend Rolando and his sister Josephine show up from Portland on the trail of Byron, a black practitioner they know is the culprit. But once Mason and Lou get on the trail, some things seem strangely off. Why is Rolando so fixated on Byron as the bad guy? Where did these green stones come from, and who is the mystery practitioner lurking around Mason?
Mason calls upon a former girlfriend, the Wiccan healer Campbell, for help. She leads him to Montague, a mountain man and former practitioner who lives in a most unusual place. Montague is able to help Mason with the few clues already in his possession but needs more--and this is one scavenger hunt from which Mason and his faithful buddy Lou may never return.
Levitt does exactly what an urban fantasy sequel ought to do: expand the scope of the world in strange and interesting ways. Mason begins to consider more deeply the nature of Ifrits--those animal-like magic companions like Lou who appear to some practitioners but not many. Like his jazz guitar skill, Mason is a natural improviser and his theories may not be conventional, but still...
There are also plenty of "they don't exists" that get overturned in this novel as well, particularly delving into the issue of practitioners who "go too far" and are changed into something inhuman. Mason interacts with a handful of these in the course of this adventure, an occurrence I suspect will lead to greater consequences in future installments.
The plot offers twists and turns to keep mystery readers turning the pages. The motives of the villain gradually come into focus, with a resolution that feels entirely appropriate. Victor and Eli get less "screen time" than in the past book, though that is all right; it would not be good if Mason relied on their help too much.
Among the new characters, Levitt develops some interesting newcomers in Rolando, Josephine, Byron and Montague. Each has their own specialties and opinions about magic, and each teaches Mason something important as he hunts down the practitioner responsible for an increasing body count of brain-fried San Franciscans.
One of the most interesting features of Levitt's work is how he relates playing music and doing magic; for Mason, the two are similar, in that his jazz music relies on improvisation and his magic--culling elements around him into new and sometimes dangerous combinations--works likewise. It's a lively new take on working magic. Along with his original take on familiars (in the form of Ifrits), Levitt is doing very nicely at creating his own niche in the urban fantasy landscape.
Fans of solid mysteries told with a large dose of magic will enjoy this book even more than the first. And if the promise of an appealing magic dog isn't enough to get you to give it a try... well, what can I say?