Night Child, by Jes Battis (Ace, 2008)

When the body of a dead (for real) vampire is discovered in an alley, Tess Corday, Occult Special Investigator for the Vancouver office of CORE – Central Occult Regulation Enterprise – is called into action, to determine just who this vampire was, and how and why he ended up dead in a back alley. Already on thin ice with her superiors due to her sometimes loose interpretation of her duties, Tess is told in no uncertain terms that if she screws this case up, she’s gone from CORE for good, and there’s just not that much work for mages who wash out under such circumstances. Her initial investigation brings her into contact with Mia Polansky, a teenage girl with massive untapped magical potential, and soon afterwards, things get ugly. Mercenary demons attack Tess and her partner, more people end up dead, and Tess herself is soon taken off the case.

However, it’s become personal to Tess, especially since Mia uncomfortably reminds her of someone from her past, a tragedy Tess has never quite gotten over. Despite common sense and job regulations and her superiors coming down on her like a ton of bricks, she continues to pursue the ever-more-complicated case, made all the more confusing with the addition of Lucian Agrado, a sexy necromancer whose very touch makes Tess think unprofessional thoughts, mixing fear with desire. Before it’s all over and Tess has gotten to the very heart of this mystery, she’ll contend with assassins, vampires, demons, betrayal, and the unhealed wounds of her own past.

Night Child, the first book starring Tess Corday, is a compelling new urban fantasy which mixes equal parts forensic investigation, modern science, and down-and-dirty magic to create something new and different, sure to appeal to the CSI fans in the crowd. Jes Battis has done a lovely job of working up a genuine murder mystery that snowballs into a dark conspiracy, and his characters use a combination of actual forensics techniques and magical skills to make the crucial breakthroughs at each stage of the investigation. While CSI-style stories aren’t normally my cup of tea, I can certainly see the appeal. Tess and her telepathic partner, Derrick, may take the lead in this story, but Battis has fleshed out the rest of the Mystical Crime Lab with an appropriate bunch of technogeeks, trivia-hoarding misfits, and obsessive weirdoes, which would likely be at home in any of the various television shows that focus on such things.

Also, Battis has set up an interesting scenario, where vampires, demons, mages and necromancers exist in their own little hidden enclaves and societies alongside the mundane world. Admittedly, that part’s nothing new for urban fantasy, but Battis goes the extra distance to apply science to some of the details, making for a blend of science and magic, rational and irrational, technology and spells, allowing this particular setting to stand out in its own way. It’s just plausible enough to work under the circumstances.

Night Child is a great start to a new series, and now that we’ve got the obligatory introduction to the characters and their various quirks and hangups out of the way, I’m looking forward to seeing what comes next for Tess and her friends. There’s just enough shakeup with the status quo at the end to make it anyone’s guess as to just what’s in store for the characters, and I’m hoping we’ll see more of Tess Corday soon.

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