DEAD WITCH WALKING
Cross Stephanie Plum with Buffy Summers and you could end up with Rachel Morgan, a bounty-hunting witch whose massive screwups result in a price on her head. Rachel must cope with an oversexed vampire roommate and a pixie-inhabited garden while ducking would-be murderers, concocting spells and proving that one of Cincinnati's most respected citizens is manufacturing and selling outlawed antibiotics. Bringing in one of the country's biggest biodrug dealers just might get her former employers to rethink the contract they have out on her life.
Consistent world-building enhances this intense story, set in a near future where scientific research and man-made drugs are outlawed after a bio-engineered virus runs rampant. Rachel is fascinating, a wannabe badass with a sweetly vulnerable side and a rich backstory. Supporting characters, particularly sidekicks Ivy and Jenks, are memorably real, and even the bad guys have touches that engender a bit of sympathy.
Harrison's super-strong debut fantasy keeps readers guessing, and a satisfying conclusion leaves just enough dangling to make readers impatient for a follow-up. The gritty tone balances a light touch, creating truly funny moments as well as breathless suspense. (May, 432 pp., $6.99)
Jen Talley Exum