I have no desire to step in the fanfic argument because it matters not a whit to me where writers come from or how they cut their authorial teeth. I say this so no one will think I’m insulting the compulsively readable Unbalanced Mercy when I tell you its beginning reminded me of X-Files fanfic except Scully is the agent in charge instead of Mulder. What follows is an exciting tale of amateur magicians in over their heads, trying to keep a dangerous entity from breaking through to our world, aided by our two federal agents, a gay bookseller, and a magician out for revenge.
Special Agent Paul Lowe and Special Agent Miranda Burton are investigating The Order, a group of amateur magicians making magical objects. However, Delores Vandecamp, a rogue Order member, has stolen one of the artifacts, gone on a killing spree, and opened up a dark portal. Lowe and Burton will have to pull out all the stops to find and defeat Delores, but they have bookseller Derek Goldman and firebrand Stacey Durand, who has already battled Delores once and seen her mentor killed, along with a few others to try to stop her.
Lowe and Burton have the first part of the book as they begin their investigation and Lowe settles into his new role, so we don’t meet Goldman and Durand until about seventy pages in. The focus then changes from a police procedural to something a bit more character driven. Both Goldman and Durand are great characters: a middle-aged Jewish, bi-racial, cis gay man and a homeless queer teen who helps out at the bookstore while she seeks revenge. And they have a more interesting relationship than the agents do, so it’s no surprise that they carry the book once they appear. Not that the agents are uninteresting or useless. They set up most of the plot elements and introduce us to characters we’ll see again later, but theirs is a working relationship.
Warren also knows his way around an action scene. He renders both skirmishes and battles with exacting detail, but you always know where the fighters are and what they’re doing. His prose is concise but never skimpy, and his pacing is flawless. He takes advantage of the lulls and valleys to build character, so that when it’s time to fight, the reader is fully invested in the outcome.
Unbalanced Mercy is a corker of a supernatural police thriller, and if that’s your thing, this will be enough to make you join the Malleus Maleficarum.
© 2021 Jerry L. Wheeler