Friday, May 24, 2013

Book Review: "This Case is Gonna Kill Me" by Phillipa Bornikova

Thanks to John Grisham and Scott Turow legal thrillers have become a staple of popular fiction.  In her first book,  This Case Is Gonna Kill Me, Phillipa Bornikova attempts to add a new genre to the paranormal aisle by fusing urban fantasy and the legal-eagle mystery-- with middling results.

Linnet Ellery is fresh out of law school but, thanks to rich and influential parents, lands a job at a high powered "white fang" law firm run by vampires. She's assigned as an assistant to a low-ranking lawyer and expects to spend lots of time doing tons of pointless busywork and navigating some vicious office politics. But the case takes an alarming turn after a werewolf attack and kills one of her co-workers and Linnet realizes she might also be in danger as the case she's working on seems to have more intrigues than anyone knew.

"This Case is Gonna Kill Me" was a frustrating book for me in a lot of ways. In some respects it's a very readable book in the typical action-oriented way of most paranormal fiction. I kept turning the pages hoping that hints dropped regarding certain potential plot point would turn into something, only to be disappointed when I turned the last page without any clarity on a number of things.

Bornikova, like a lot of writers of paranormal fiction, attempts to rewrite the traditional vampire/werewolf story by tweaking certain elements. The big difference in here is that neither supernatural entity is allowed to turn a woman into their particular form of monster- but we're never told why. It's speculated upon by a couple of characters but there's no attempt to move the story along in that way and the way it's dropped doesn't give me enough confidence that I should pick up the second book in hopes of solving that mystery.

But the most baffling thing about "This Case is Going to Kill Me" has to be the legal aspects of the story. Linnet is presented as something of a legal wunderkind who, if I'm being honest, comes across as something of a Mary Sue-ish kind of character. She's the plucky, fresh out of school kind of girl who breezes into her new job and quickly demonstrates that she's more insightful and courageous than all the cutthroat lawyers at her firm. She cleaves her way through all the sexual politics of her firm (including a weird, out-of-sync sexual encounter with one of the vampire partners) and soon has the previously aloof women of the firm rallying around her. Only in a fantasy book could things play out so neatly. Additionally she's given a lot of leeway to investigate the case that may have precipitated the werewolf attack with little input from her superiors and virtually no interference or interest by the police.

But if I had to pick one thing I think my biggest gripe about "This Case is Going to Kill Me" is that the book really seems to follow a rote pattern for paranormal fiction without really developing the characters in a way that feels natural. There are moments when Linnet's history is touched upon, like the fact that she was raised by vampires, but those elements of the story are addressed in a hit-and-run fashion that never offers enough clarity to satisfy the reader. The would-be romance in the story is handled in the same way and there is absolutely no chemistry or common ground between the two main characters. The story can be engaging at times but the writing and storytelling is generally choppy and abrupt and sometimes had me flipping back and forth trying to keep track of characters that jump in and out of the plot. Minor character quirks, like Linnet's love of horse riding, are also shoehorned in but don't make a lot of sense in the overall scheme of things and the author's assumption that the reader would know the peculiarities of horsemanship without explanation (I had no idea what a piaffe is and couldn't intuit what kind of horse maneuver it was from the dialoge or description in the book) don't serve the narrative very well either.

There is a glimmer of an idea here that could work very well as a sub-genre of paranormal fiction but "This Case is Gonna Kill Me" feels off in its execution and the narrative never flows smoothly. I wanted to like this book but honestly found it to be mostly frustrating and unsatisfying.

2 out of 5 stars


Blodeuedd said...

Ok maybe not for me after all

Charles Gramlich said...

titles are important to me and that's really one of the worst titles I've ever seen.

SQT said...

@Blodeuedd-- Lol!... Yeah. I was actually a bit disgruntled when I finished this. Does it show? ;)

@Charles-- I agree with you. I only picked it up because I got the sequel in the mail and wanted to see if it was a series worth pursuing. It's not. The awful title does not help sell the book either.