I loved Bitter Spirits and I was very eager to have a chance to read the second novel in the series, Grim Shadows.
Set in 1920’s San Fransisco, Jenn Bennett’s Roaring Twenties series novels are atmospheric, lush and engrossing. Part paranormal mysteries, part historical romances these novel have an incredible sense of place and time. The Great San Fransisco earthquake of 1906 is still part of the popular memory and the scars it left on the residents and landscape of the city is well established. Bennett built a distinct paranormal world where the glittering flappers & aristocracy of bootlegging era rub shoulders with witches, spiritualist, herbalists & mediums while remaining largely unaware of the existence of zombies, ghosts, and ancient death specters.
In Bitter Spirits we were introduced to the head of the Magnusson clan, Winter, the hulking Swedish bootlegging king of San Fransisco. When Winter is cursed by a rival to attract deathly specters he turns to Aida an independent and aloof traveling medium, who not only can see the spirits but repel them.
In Grim Shadows, Winter’s younger brother, Lowe returns to San Fransisco. Lowe is world-traveling rougue, an Archaeologist, part treasure hunter, part con artist. He arrives in San Fransisco with a valuable amulet to sell and powerful enemies to placate. The smooth-talking Lowe runs straight into Hadley Bacall, an Egyptian scholar whose expertise and affinity for Egyptian artifacts endangers Lowe’s latest scheme to profit from his discoveries.
Ridiculously unfair that an opportunitist loot-hound could be so blindingly, roughishly handsome.
Hadley seems to see right through him, calling him on his easy lies and manipulations, and Lowe can't stop looking at her, the closer he looks at her, especially when he catches a glimpse of some of the things she hides about herself
Imagine that. All her dour, black clothes were a false front, like a Wild West building in a Hollywood film! And underneath was all this ...color.
Color and more.
So much more.
Hadley and Lowe team up to retrieve missing Egyptian artifacts hidden around San Fransisco by her mother. As they decipher the clues she left behind they expose a suffocating web of lies, obsession & revenge that has shadowed Hadley’s young life and is costing her father his life.
I loved Hadley, from her carefully cultivated control, and apparent detachment to her quick wit and intelligence. She had been under appreciated, underestimated and undermined by those closest to her, but she didn’t let it break her. I was slower to warm up to Lowe, whose roguish charm and questionable motives made his bootlegging brother seem like a pillar of society by comparison. But Lowe is able to do something for Hadley that no one else has ever been willing to do. He treats her with respect, recognizing her intelligence, and speaks to her with a frankness that nears honesty. After intial misteps, Lowe's patient and creative campaign to get close to Hadley who is extremely skittish, resisting even the most common of physical touches, slowly lights her on fire after years of fear and self-denial.
They both eventually bare not just bodies to each other but also the guilty secrets and mistakes that mark them. The novel deals with eloquently with the importance and challenges of honesty in relationships, the lies of lovers and friends and how frequently we can hurt the ones closest to us with lies of omission and self-deception.
I also love that Bennett’s San Fransisco is a diverse living city with Black, Chinese, Jewish and Latino people included into the fabric of the city and lives of the main characters. This diversity reinforces the sense that this world is populated with people, friends, neighbors, co-workers, acquaintances, and landladies, with actual human weight. You never get a sense that these people disappear when they leave the main character’s view or that they are simply props. They all have lives, places to go, and losses to feel. I grew very attached to several secondary characters and was deeply moved by the ways Hadley and Lowe’s choices impacted their lives.
This has been my favorite series of 2014 and I am looking forward to reading Grave Phantoms, Astrid Magnusson’s and Bo Yeung’s story, next year!
A copy of Grim Shadows was provided by the author for review purposes.