Linnet Ellery is a modern, young associate at the prestigious New York law firm of Ishmael, McGillary and Gold. But IMG is not your average law firm – it’s what’s known as a “white-fang” firm, which means that it’s run by vampires. That’s no big deal in Linnet’s New York – in Linnet’s world – for vampires, werewolves and the elven Álfar (collectively known as the Powers) “came out” in the 1960s, and have established themselves as an integrated element of society, although acceptance of them is ongoing and slow.
The expected stereotypes are still at play: vampires are cool (literally), cultured and somewhat resistant to change; werewolves tend to irrationality and irritability, and use brute strength; Álfar are beautiful and vain, and routinely utilize glamours to enchant those around them. But each are working to be part of “normal” society – which is a fascinating and fun concept that author Philipa Bornikova does very well.
We first met Linnet in Bornikova’s debut novel, This Case Is Gonna Kill Me, where she battled rogue werewolves, a disheartening incursion into the Seelie Court and even a lecherous partner in her own firm while this new take on our modern world was deftly constructed. Now Linnet is thrust into a different environment – the glitz and glamour of Hollywood – as she accompanies IMG partner David Sullivan (a vampire) to the “Left Coast” to arbitrate dissent in the Screen Actors Guild over the influx of Álfar actors, who purportedly are using their “magic” on casting directors and producers rather than utilizing talent alone to secure jobs that would otherwise go to their human counterparts.
Author Bornikova spends little time in explication in Box Office Poison, which is good for return readers, as she is able to spend her time and efforts on developing an engaging story, but this may prove a touch disorienting to those who did not read the first novel; some of the persons and events referenced may be initially bewildering. But that’s a minor concern because the tale that Bornikova weaves in Box Office Poison is sharp and immersive, even if there is a little catching up to do.
In This Case is Gonna Kill Me, we were taken deep into the world of high powered office politics, along with the mystery on which the story turned. In Box Office Poison, the office is still there but the drama shifts to the dichotomy of façade vs reality in the strangeness that comes along with the territory in Los Angeles. There is plenty of Hollywood vanity to enjoy, and the way that typical SoCal stereotypes effortlessly click in is cheeky fun. I especially enjoyed how very important travel routes became, with discussions and debates, and even water cooler chatter, about specific roads that should be used in order to by-pass gridlock. Linnet makes fun of these stereotypes herself, when even she starts defaulting to casual use of movie references – something she abhorred prior to landing in LA.
But mixed in with all the fluff is a serious mystery (or two) that becomes downright deadly. What started out as a simple arbitration case is heightened by deadly manipulation – but by whom and for what purpose? As anti- Álfar sentiment escalates, fanned by thinly veiled hate groups such as the vocal organization Human First, Linnet finds herself once again in the middle of dangerous (and deadly) situations where it is only by her amazing luck (which by now cannot be attributed merely to circumstance) that she does not number among the casualties. Will Linnet be able to solve the mystery before her luck runs out?
Box Office Poison is a tightly crafted, thoroughly entertaining piece of work full of sparkling wit, crackling suspense and surprisingly well developed characters. Unlike many novels the eschew the esoteric, there are no throw away characters, nothing that appears merely to drop a joke, nor any cardboard characters plugged in simply to give some aspect of the narrative traction. When the story does dip into detail, the reader feels carried along and not lectured to; this is the mark of a superb storyteller.
We reached the center of the track and I turned Vento to face the expanse of dragged dirt. His muscles vibrated beneath me, and he began to piaffe. I wrapped my hands in his flowing mane, sent my hips forward slightly, and backed it up with a touch of my calf. He rocketed into a canter, and within three strides we were at a full gallop. He didn’t have the bounding stride or the speed of the thoroughbreds I had breezed one summer when I was looking for extra cash, but he was still going plenty fast enough for a foggy February night. And what he lacked in speed he made up for in stamina. We had circled the quarter-mile track three times before I began to feel his hindquarters losing push.
Linnet herself is a captivating heroine, with a wry sense of humor that often had me chuckling. I applaud the boldness of author Phillipa Bornikova in this second book in refraining from allowing Linnet to become mired in romantic entanglements while still keeping our interest piqued regarding her relationships, both past and potentially present. This “less is more” treatment of Linnet’s relationship status and various other mysteries that yet surround her (some of which carry over from the last novel and some of which crept into this new story) will keep our appetites whetted for that hinted-at more.
Yes, it’s pretty much a sure bet that there will be another Linnet Ellery book, and this is a good thing. For all its credulity-straining situations and pat resolutions, these urban fantasies have no need of being placed on the “guilty pleasures” shelf. Well written, imaginative, humorous and just plain fun to read, Box Office Poison sets a stage, builds a story, develops the characters, resolves the situation, and leaves just enough thread hanging to make sure we’ll feel satisfied yet be anticipating Volume 3. To play to the Hollywood parody, these Linnet Ellery Mysteries may be made-for-broadcast movies rather than theatrical releases, but you can bet that I’ll be glued to my set each time one comes on, and enjoying every minute of it.