KIM FALCONER The Blood in the Beginning: Ava Sykes #1. Reviewed by Lou Murphy
A killer ride packed with punches, this riveting cross-genre urban-fantasy thriller is set in dystopian Los Angeles.
Ava Sykes is a 24-year-old in her final year of studying medical science at UCLA. After graduation she hopes to be accepted for an internship with the LA branch of the Centre for Disease Control. However, her interest in genetics and the widespread auto-immune disorders that manifested in the aftermath of a catastrophic quake that rocked LA city 15 years earlier, is far from objective. For Ava Sykes is special. Very special. Not only does she possess a photographic memory, she is also colour-blind with a heightened sense of smell, and suffers from a strange blood condition. Physically she is beyond strong, and her training in martial arts makes her a hardcore bouncer at her night-time job at the ironically named Lucky Lounge.
Okay, so we have a female protagonist who is not only super smart and super strong but also – given all the male attention she receives – apparently super sexy too. Before that puts the reader off, be assured that this chick is far from perfect. Deeply cynical and distrustful, Sykes is an unpredictable heroine who struggles with relationships and the daily challenges of survival in the tough, polluted cesspool of secrets that marks the altered fabric of post-quake LA. Her friends are few; the oldest being Detective Rourke, a good cop who acts as her confidante and saviour. They share a lot of history;
… The detective and I went way back, but not in a cosy family friendship way, hell no. He’d set me straight when I went a little wayward. Surviving the Aftermath, who didn’t have issues? Okay, a lot wayward. Rourke kept me out of juvie, for the most part, and though there’d been no luck finding decent foster care, he started me in the LA-MMA junior circuit, and that saved my life. ‘You want to fight, you might as well learn how not to be killed.’ When I showed up for my first martial arts class, he was leading. Yeah, we went way back.
Sykes’s martial arts skills and her friendship with Rourke both come in handy when a serial killer – responsible for the disappearance of young women – sets her in his sights. Stalked by the creepy masked psychopath, Sykes allows the cops to use her as bait to try and catch him. Meanwhile, she continues her daily routine of university lectures, study, martial arts training and work.
Her best friend from university, Cate, works as a ‘siren’ at the exclusive Poseidon Club. When the Lucky Lounge is forced to close and Sykes loses her job, she accepts a security posting at the Poseidon. True to its namesake the club is a tributary to everything oceanic:
… The bar ran from one end of the far wall to the other, longer than a couple of back-to-back tenpin bowling lanes. The wall gleamed with rows of glasses sparkling on polished wood shelves. All that wasn’t the breath-stealer though. Not by a long shot.
The entire back wall was a freaking floor to ceiling aquarium, flanked by mirrors, as if the place didn’t seem big enough already. This was Poseidon alright: king of the sea. There was sunken treasure, along with a tropical reef and little sharks. I tilted my head up, way up, taking in the frescos on the ceiling, a regular underwater Sistine Chapel …
The sea theme underpins the fantasy elements of the novel, twisting hallucinogenic solutions from seemingly disparate mysteries. Who is the masked stalker? What really happens in the basement of the Poseidon? And what is the truth behind Sykes’s adopted identity, her birth mother, and her own idiosyncratic DNA?
With the help of Rourke and her ex-boyfriend Tom, Sykes attempts to solve these mysteries. Along the way the owner of the Poseidon, Daniel Bane, attempts to seduce her. He is rich, handsome, mesmerising and a little odd. But he’s not the only one vying for her attention. Dr Miguel Rossi, a UCLA alumni and celebrated doctor with seemingly absurd theories about the anomalies of her DNA, keeps popping up when she least expects him. It seems everybody wants a piece of her. She just has to work out why.
The multi-tiered plot feeds into pop culture’s current mer-phenomenon and is embedded with memorable merfolk and underwater hallucinations. Stylistically it is rich in steampunk aesthetics and sensually heightened experiences:
The world amplified around me in the most dizzying way. It wasn’t noisy or overwhelming; more riveting, like listening to a symphony and being able to distinguish every sound wave from tuba to piccolo, bass drum to cornet. Rephrasing that, it wasn’t as melodic as a symphony. I heard car horns, road rage, toilets flushing, couples fighting, trash tipping, drug deals going down, but also old ladies selling flowers to lovely young men and dogs chasing Frisbees in the nearby park …
Falconer writes with authority, fiercely navigating unconventional terrain to uncover a conspiracy of mammoth proportions. An instant page-turner that maintains its frenzied pace to the last.
Kim Falconer The Blood in the Beginning: Ava Sykes #1 Harlequin Mira 2016 PB 352pp $29.99
Lou Murphy is the author of the crime novel Squealer, available from http://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/LouMurphy
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