Tuesday, December 19

The Sorcerer's Circle by Michael Siverling

Review by Diana Bane

The Sorcerer's Circle is Michael Siverling's second book in the Midnight Investigations series, out this month from St Martin's. Not having read first-in-series The Sterling Inheritance, this was my introduction to Jason Wilder and his mother Victoria, and the rest of the quirky team.

The story kicks off when Jason, trying to close the Midnight Investigations office in the big Victorian house in River City, has a late afternoon drop-in visit from Elijah Messenger, who was referred by the police. That is odd enough, seeing as how the private investigators and the police force aren't getting along all that well, but Messenger's appearance is odder still. He dresses all in black, with a dramatic long coat he wears over his shoulders like a cape, and has long white hair and beard. He says he is a psychic and a magician by trade and has foreseen his own imminent death. Jason brushes the man off, making him out to be either a fraud or mentally ill, or both. So when Elijah Messenger is found dead soon thereafter, a circle with a pentagram inscribed inside it nearby, Jason feels terrible and wants to find out what happened.

The investigation receives further impetus when the Mayor of River City hires Victoria and the team to find his daughter Anna, who unfortunately has become a follower of Messenger and was present on the night of his death. The mayor doesn't trust the police to try very hard to exonerate his daughter, because he and the police chief are old political rivals and personal enemies. Victoria -- a fascinating character I wish we'd seen more of -- designates her son to head up the inquiry since she is committed to an art theft in Socal. Things proceed in the usual way for a p.i. mystery, with a cast of suspects who must be interviewed and eliminated, and trouble along the way. I was unable to guess the killer, and even then I missed the most valuable clue until Jason pointed it out in a Poirotish wrap-up, so the ending was satsifying.

If, like me, you occasionally get tired of the darker stuff, The Sorcerer's Circle will give you a good change of pace. The characters are refreshingly different and engaging, and so is the setting. The atmosphere the author creates in his fictional city is a fascinating mix of the contemporary with, somehow, an old-fashioned feel. These people are as civil and as ethical as we like to think we all might have been once, and they are that way very much in the here-and-now, amid S&M and Rohypnol and internet porn and such. Jason and Victoria et al. have neither the mannerisms nor the vocabulary of the usual hard-boiled detective, but they are dead serious about crime all the same. When Jason says, in response to having been shown some graphic photos of a CSI type, "Bleah", I laughed out loud.

I loved The Sorcerer's Circle, and hope many others will try it and love it too.

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