I am obsessed about having something to read. Anything. I'll read the side panels of cereal cartons if there's nothing else. My kind of OCD, I guess. I know bookstores love me because of that. They ought to treat me the way casinos treat people with a gambling addiction.
So a few weeks back I'd been waiting for Elysa to finish shopping. There was a dollar store nearby, so I decided to just see if I'd stumble across something interesting there. I ended up in the book aisle, which typically consists of various editions of thesaurus and dictionaries, maybe a Bible story book, that sort of thing. But this time I noticed a number of paperbacks on the shelf. Browsing through them I noticed a story by Caitlin Kittredge entitled Demon Bound. Browsing the first couple of pages I realized it was yet another occult detective story - no surprise, since Jim Butcher left a nice blurb right on the front cover. While I'm really really really looking for new ideas in SF&F, I was rather desperate for something to read, and it was only gonna cost me a buck, so I picked it up.
One of the best dollars I've ever spent on reading material, I can tell you that.This was a truly lovely read. A lot of occult detectives are disgustingly competent, hardly working up a sweat while beating their opponents. Only in the boss battle do they have to bleed. (Above mentioned Jim Butcher's Harry Dresden is one exception.) It's not that occult detectives can't be competent, but it kind of spoils the thrill. Kittredge's Jack Winter (the name initially put me off, it did) is no magical n00b, but magic in his world is hazardous at the best of times, and a demon is gunning for him.
We meet Jack and his girlfriend Pete doing a little spirit raising to pay the bills. The scene beautifully sets the mood for the rest of the story, establishing Jack's competence, as well as his limits, and the prickly relationship he has with Pete. It's that relationship that drives the rest of the story. Thirteen years ago Jack made a deal with a demon to save his life - he didn't want to leave Pete without a mentor. His time is almost up, and he's desperately looking for a way out. But this demon is nobody's fool. As Jack tries to keep Pete from discovering what is going on while he negotiates with the denizens of hell I found myself getting drawn into the story. There's a showdown in the end, of course, and I suppose if I'd read the first novel in the series, Street Magic, I might not have been quite so surprised at the ending. Suffice it to say, Jack has more than the demon after him, and in the end he has to make that choice.
I loved Kittredge's characterizations. Jack, a lowlife ex-addict whose principles don't really extend much further than a personal debt to Pete. Pete, an ex-cop who is just learning about her particular powers, and whose relationship to Jack is a lot more than just rescuer and caretaker. Kittredge doesn't waste a lot of energy on the other characters. Jack and Pete and their complicated relationship are center stage. When it comes to this kind of a story, that's a rare and wonderful thing.
I don't know if you'll be able to find this book for a dollar, but even if you pay full price, I think it's money well spent.