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18 March 2013

John Levitt’s first book Dog Days came out from Ace in November of 2007. And yes, usually the books/authors in this Overlooked series come from a lot further back in time. In this case I made an exception because it looks possible that the four books the author had out between 2007 and 2011 could possibly be it. Why, I have no idea because to my mind they stack up as fully equal to any others in this type of sub-genre. Which is, before you ask, paranormal mystery. Mystery I said, not paranormal romance. The sub-genre into which you can also fit The Dresden Files, the Mercy Thompson series, The Nightside, and and C.E.Murphy’s The Walker Papers. In a couple of those series (Mercy Thompson in particular) while there may be romance, the mystery is the important thing, and while the books can sell in both categories, I feel that if you had to say flatly that they were one or the other, I’d plump for mystery. I picked up copies of the second and fourth books in this series almost by accident – actually recommended to me by a bookshop owner – and having read them I went looking for the missing duo, which, happily, I discovered.

The author has led a hugely varied life, which is great because it allows him to use his own life and work as the background. It gives verisimilitude to the books’ milieu because he knows what he’s talking about, and it allows him to drop little esoteric items that he knows from his own experiences and that give this series a real vibe. Mr. Levitt’s main character, Mason, is a part-time enforcer against the misuse of magical abilities in San Francisco – which the author isn’t quite, although he was a Salt Lake City patrol officer and later investigator. Mason is also however, a musician, which the author is. (You can buy CDs of his work with The Procrastinistas on the site www.jlevitt.com ) And Lou, the iffrit sort-of dog that lives with him, is, I suspect, a mix of the real dogs that share Mr. Levitt’s home. The author has worked as a cop, a roadie, worked in a mountain ski lodge, and now is a writer. Can’t say that he’s in a rut. (My own career swerved from stallion groom to bank teller, from government executive to pony-trekking leader to farmer and cafe worker and that too has always been useful.)

So, Dog Days starts with Mason being savagely attacked one night as he leaves the club where he’s been playing jazz guitar. Lou comes to the rescue and it’s all on. And on, and… someone has it in for Mason in a big way and unless he finds out what’s going on and why, he won’t be playing anything ever again the moment he gets careless. The magic system in Levitt’s series is well developed, understandable, and interesting, as are the characters. Mason is a genuine human, a bit inclined to laziness, casual gear, and screwing up relationships, which makes him believable. He’s also a good friend, loves Lou, cares about people not being abused, and tries to do something about it if he walks into that happening. The end of Dog Days was solidly satisfying with the villain vanquished, but Mason’s relationship has gone down the drain, a good friend has been lost, and a number of those who’d been in the villain’s hands won’t recover. This is not one of those books that end in sweetness and light, it’s realistic within the parameters of its background, and damaged or dead people mostly remain damaged or dead, as happens in real life.

The other three books are New Tricks, an Ace paperback out in December 2008, Unleashed, a paperback published by Ace in December 2008, and Play Dead, from Ace in paperback in February 2011. And there the series stopped. As I understand it, either Ace isn’t publishing more of this series, or for some reason, they’re holding off on the next one. Maybe this darn recession is getting to them as I know it is to a lot of other publishers including a couple of mine. Or it may be that without much romance in the series, they are unable to market the books to both sides (as paranormal mystery and paranormal romance) and feel that this makes for a lower reader base. Whatever the reason, I’m sorry that we may not see more of Mason and Lou, and their friends, enemies, musicians, street people, and others who may be most or none of those. I’ve just read the four books for the second time and find that they hold up very well to that, as I expect will continue. Put simply, I thoroughly enjoyed the characters, backgrounds, and plots, and if there are no more I’ll regret that. A lover of this sub-genre could do a lot worse than to buy the four books while they’re still in print. Maybe an upturn in sales will encourage the publisher to accept more in the series. I hope so, because I thought that four books weren’t nearly enough. Recommended to dog-lovers, paranormal mystery lovers, and rock/jazz music-lovers.

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