Tricks of the Trade

I remember the smile spreading across my face the first time I read Cosa Nostradamus in Laura Anne Gilman’s Staying Dead. The inside joke is of the type that is “funny always”, because I’m still smiling every time I see it in the offshoot series, Paranormal Scene Investigations. The Cosa Nostradamus is never exactly translated, but I can make an educated guess. If the Cosa Nostra of Mafia fame is “Our Thing” then Cosa Nostradamus is “magic thing” or “magic family”. Considering the way that the Cosa sometimes acts in Gilman’s world, “magic Mafia” might be a valid interpretation.

Tricks of the Trade is Gilman’s third book in her Paranormal Scene Investigations series. This is an offshoot of her Retrievers series, and it is set in the same urban fantasy version of our world as that series. In fact, Wren Valere, the Retriever, appears very, very briefly in Tricks, and the events of the Retrievers series serve as background for the PSI series.

Bonita Torres is the lead point-of-view character in Tricks of the Trade. In Hard Magic, the first book in the series, we were introduced to Bonnie and the rest of the PUPIs. PUPI stands for Private Unaffiliated Paranormal Investigators. And yes, they do get called “puppies”. And pups.  Which makes their bosses, Ian Stosser and Ben Venec the “Big Dogs”. The PUPIs are all Talent, in other words, current users, in their 20s, with a special skill. Bonnie’s skill is detailed recall. It’s probable that all the PUPIs also have an incident in their past where the Cosa‘s lack of law enforcement failed them in some way. Bonnie’s father was murdered, and there was no system in place for evidence to be gathered and presented to a justice system. PUPI was created to be that unprejudiced evidence gathering organization.

The Cosa Nostradamus has three branches; Council, Lonejack and Fatae. Council are the high-muckety-mucks, with power, influence and organization. Lonejacks are exactly what they sound like, they each work alone, and they rather aggressively want to be left alone. Fatae are the non-humans; fauns, nymphs, dryads, minotaurs, demons, and everything in-between. Some of them can pass as human, some can’t, not even in New York City.

By the time Tricks of the Trade occurs, PUPI has been in business in NYC for a year. They are starting to get some regular clients, at least enough to pay the bills. The Mage Councils are starting to come to PUPI to solve cases for them, at least when things go really, really bad, and they have nothing left to lose. The Councils still believe that Council should solve Council problems, but it just isn’t working for them anymore. The Lonejacks are beginning to recognize that PUPI might be what they say they are, in service of the facts and nothing more, nothing less.

PUPI serves order. There is a Fatae who directly opposes this. There are always Tricksters in every myth system. Loki, Raven, Coyote, Anansi, and Hermes are all Trickster avatars. There is a Fatae known as “The Roblin” who comes to New York City to foment chaos. It’s hard for him at first. New York City is naturally chaotic, people mostly cope. Then he focuses on the PUPIs specifically, and all hell breaks loose. Not just with the cases they are working on, but with their lives.

Escape Rating A-: I was glad to have an excuse to re-visit Gilman’s world again. In spite of some of the bad stuff going down, this is a version of alternate history I wouldn’t mind living in, particularly if I were Talented. The idea that Ben Franklin was a mage is one I can’t get out of my head–in a really good way.

The characters are what make this series interesting. Each of the major characters is definitely an individual, and it’s someone I’d like to meet. Gilman conveys the joys and frustrations of team-building so well, how everyone pulls together and finds a fit in this new “thing” they all get consumed by, that joy you experience when you find a job that gives you purpose and not just a paycheck–even when it eats your life.

Hard Magic and Pack of Lies maintained a tight focus on Bonnie’s point-of-view. Not first-person-singular, but seeing the world from her perspective. It worked very well. Tricks of the Trade switched focus between Bonnie and Venec. There were reasons in the story for this, but the diffusion of focus lost something. I think it worked better when we stuck to Bonnie’s POV.

I want the next book now! I was not ready to leave this world when I finished Tricks of the Trade. So while I was glad I piled the first three books up and was able to have a two-day binge, I’m kind of sorry that the next book, Dragon Justice, won’t be available until Spring 2012.

And if you like urban fantasy and haven’t read the Retrievers series yet, give yourself a Christmas/Hanukkah/Solstice present. Get Staying Dead and start now. The Cosa Nostradamus is waiting for you.