Jack Shepherd, soldier, weretiger, veteran, is returning home to Dead End, a tiny town in isolated rural Florida, to handle his dead uncle’s affairs. And his pawn shop
A shop part owned by Tess, a young woman who is determined to keep the business going, is good at what she does and has little time for him
Whatever conflicts they may have can’t be spared any time though when a body appears on the shop’s doorstep: and it’s not the fist. No-one told Jack how his uncle died.
Looking at this cover I was struck by an overwhelming sense of Sookie Stackhouse Series. Now, normally I shy away from comparisons to other book series as it inevitably tends to cast the books your talking about in a shadow: but I’m going here because a) I don’t think many authors are going to dispute the dominance of the Sookie Stackhouse series in the genre and b) I’m comparing favourably
Because it has many of the interesting themes of that series - the small town and close community feeling. A character who is very much an every-person without being the specialist-special-person of supreme Sueness. A world that is extremely magically diverse with magic and wereanimals and witches and hints of many things more. It takes a nice small town setting we don’t often see in books (in this case a pawn shop - and doesn’t that have the chance for so many supernatural shinies to show up?)
But it also has many elements that improve the concept: we have characters getting involved in a murder investigation for an actual legitimate reason rather than just randomness (considerable suspicion of the law enforcement and their collusion with the big bad). We have a small town that suggests and actual reason for the supernatural to be there - with it’s own not-defined-but-often mentioned independent history and hidden supernatural community suggests there’s a good reason why the supernatural is here. And a similar reason why outsider authority doesn’t run in
The world is aware of the supernatural- but this has been developed into more than “there are vampires”. There’s suggestion of a broader history, wars, cultural context all from the revelations of the supernatural to the world (which I believe have been covered in different books by the same author). But this book very carefully focuses on the town - we have a wonderful sense of the greater, wider world but this town is what is relevant at the moment.
Tess isn’t a character defined by either super powers or Spunky Agency, she rarely makes decisions that makes me despair and she doesn’t hate all other women! Her best friend, Molly, is clearly a big part of her life, competent, accomplished and fun. She loves her aunt and uncle who she lives with (and despite not living with her parents isn’t overwhelmed by her Tragic Past) and has a fun female co-worker at the pawn shop (despite her lack of gun skills). She seems to respect the other characters around her, her neighbours in general and generally be a pretty decent character rather than use her internal monologue as a way to try and establish why she doesn’t belong or is superior to those around her
She and Jack are pretty much doomed to fall into a relationship and they do have the Obligatory I-don’t-like-you-because-it’s-a-romance-and-people-who-like-each-other-can’t-fall-in-love. Why oh why I don’t know but it’s a rule. Romantic partners must hate each other at least a little. But they get over it and beyond a little unseemly drooling they manage to work together in a way that maintains respect, isn’t overwhelmed with attraction when they’re trying to find murderers and manages to avoid both her doing the “hey I’m going to charge into danger alone and unarmed to show my strength!” and him avoiding the “I am going to lock you in a small cage to prove my protective devotion!” tropes.
The story comes together as an excellent introduction nicely balanced between character setting, world setting, character build up and setting out how these characters meet. Since we know where Jack goes from here, this is almost like a prologue to the main series rather than a book in and of itself, but it works as a prologue. It sets everything out and lays down the style which is appealling and gives a real sense of what these books will be, what they’ll be about and how these characters came to be who they are and how they forged the connection
We have some decent female characters around Tess as mentioned, but also some racial diversity. Molly is Asian - and even in her introduction confronts racist challenges with flare, the local deputy - and designated SENSIBLE law enforcement is a latina woman and the contact they have in federal supernatural law enforcement a latino man. We have a town member who Tess knows (like most people in town) even if she isn’t connected to who is gay and, again, confronts some stereotyping (though, it has to be said, perhaps it’s a bit idealistic. An openly gay man being actively involved with his church youth group in the rural south… maybe he doesn’t face any agro. But I’m inclined to say it’s less likely). I stress the “prologue” feel to this book again in that I don’t think it’s possible to say how important any of these characters will be to the main plot - but the prologue is put together neatly enough to make me think peripheral characters wouldn’t be introduced expressly if they were to be peripheral.