Amanda S. Green’s NOCTURNAL ORIGINS, the first original offering from the new Naked Reader e-books (www.nakedreader.com), is a very smart piece of urban fantasy. Set in Dallas, Texas, it features policewoman Mackenzie “Mac” Santos, who works for the homicide division. She’s investigating a recent run of murders that appear to have had an animal involved — something like a very large dog, or perhaps a wolf — and she’s more involved than is usual even for a good cop like Santos because she was nearly killed by what appeared to be an animal just like the one doing all the other killings.
So, we have a potential serial killing, but using animals. Or are they?
It doesn’t give away much for me to state that there are some shape-shifters involved that may have something to do with these murders. On one side, there are the “pures,” or those who are born to be shape-shifters; on the other, there are the “weres,” or those who have been “turned” to become shape-shifters (they need to be bitten, which seems like the old vampire legends, except these aren’t vamps).
What Santos learns during the course of NOCTURNAL ORIGINS is that while the world may hold more inside it than she’s ever previously been aware of, she’s still a policewoman and must do whatever she can — including stopping these shape-shifters, if possible — to keep Dallas safe from predators.
This is an outstanding first novel from an author I urge you to keep your eyes on, as Ms. Green has good facility with suspense, murder, and interpersonal affairs. “Mac” Santos is an appealing character with some flaws to her — I do love flawed characters — and some unusual strengths, and how she interacts with Patricia “Pat” Collins (another policewoman investigating these murders), her Captain, Michael King, and others among the “pure” and “were” community helps to keep the reader interested, amused, and focused.
Now, as to the “shocking” part of this book? Well, the gore of the murders, while it isn’t reveled in, is obviously present and is a big part of how heinous these particular crimes are, so Ms. Green couldn’t do anything other than what she does here — state the nature of the crimes, have the policemen ruminate over the crimes, and have them want to stop these crimes from ever occurring again — or she’d have ended up cheating the reader. And because, as in many good suspense/action-adventure novels, we get inside the murderer’s head early on, we know exactly what the murderer hopes to do — and we can’t help but root for the policemen as they do their best to find the murderer and stop him before anyone else gets killed.
So, this is an urban fantasy — classified as such due to the shape-shifting element — but it’s also an action-adventure, suspense and police procedural, and it succeeds in every particular.
This is a smart novel which only tripped my trigger in one area ** and it’s one I enjoyed very much. I believe Ms. Green’s writing style has some similarities with the earliest work of Kim Harrison, and can easily see her breaking out of the pack if given a chance . . . and personally, I intend to give her as many chances as I possibly can.
As far as a grade, I’d give this first novel an A-minus; I’d have liked it to be a little longer, and for the hints of romance to be a bit more well-developed. But these are very, very minor quibbles (see below for my one “trigger-tripper” underneath the dashes) and I strongly recommend this novel.
** OK. The one thing that really tripped my trigger was the relationship Santos has with two “pures” who can shape-shift into ocelots. Ocelots are relatively small cats who can weigh up to 40 lbs. apiece, yet these particular shape-shifters were teenaged humans (twins) of normal height and weight. Every other shape-shifter save one in NOCTURNAL ORIGINS shifted into a shape that seemed to be more or less mass/weight proportionate, which is partly why this one, isolated event set me off a little bit.
** So the weight/mass thing tripped my trigger because it didn’t go along with anything else, while the behavior of these two “pures” also made me wonder — every time they’re around Santos, who is a rather commanding personality, they shift into their ocelot forms. Santos absently scratches them when they offer their support in ocelot form. . . anyway, as a human being (no matter how much her world’s been spun around, and no matter how many extra abilities Santos may have), how can Santos forget these are twin human teens to the point that she’s scratching them as if they’re large house cats, no matter if it’s what these teens want or not? (And let’s not even start on why these teens are behaving this way; let’s just say that the way the “pures” behave is a great deal different from “normal” non-shape-shifting human society and be done with it.)
— Reviewed by Barb