Kat Richardson’s GREYWALKER novels reached a crescendo with Labyrinth, the 2010 entry in the series. It is not surprising, then, that Downpour, Richardson’s newest novel, feels anticlimactic. How does an author top killing and resurrecting her main character? It’s especially difficult when the character comes back a bit less than she was in the last book; Harper Blaine’s connection to the Grey in this book is considerably weaker than it was. But Richardson has surprises in store for her readers, as usual.
Harper is on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State, doing some bread-and-butter investigation of a potential witness for a lawyer client. It’s apparent to her that something is wrong with a local lake — something to do with the Grey — but she can’t quite tell what it is, except that there seems to be a great deal of power flowing through it. This is clear to her even before she sees the ghost of a fatal car fire, and discovers that the car and corpse have been sunk in the deepest part of the lake.
Despite this dramatic opening, Richardson wisely keeps Harper moving at a steady pace, doing what she needs to do to make a living, methodically working to keep up the legal work even as she adds an attempt to solve the homicide — because that’s clearly what the car fire was — into her busy schedule. At the same time, she attempts to avoid being arrested for homicide herself. Her former lover, William Novak, has disappeared, and Seattle police detective Rey Solis is trying to figure out whether Harper killed him, or William’s brother killed him, or exactly what did happen. Readers of Labyrinth know, and they also know that any attempt by Harper to tell the truth about it would at least get her locked up as mentally unstable, and more likely thrown into a cell with a murder charge. Add to the mix her blossoming relationship with Quinton, and she is one very busy woman indeed.
Most of this novel takes place on the Olympic Peninsula, and Richardson does her usual excellent job of establishing her place and time. Her descriptions of something as ordinary as the weather make the reader feel very much there with Harper as she confronts a series of unnatural creatures, most of which come from Asian mythology — Richardson does more with her research than most urban fantasy writers, and she does it well. Her cast of characters seems mostly comprised of unlikeable individuals, but given that the majority of them are stealers of magic, that makes good sense.
It’s a bit surprising that Richardson goes for the “get all the characters in one room and explain what’s going on” solution to the murder she spotted early on; that’s a mystery cliché that one doesn’t often see in fantasy. And perhaps that scene sums up the problem I had with this novel, for it seems to be a rather by-the-numbers story, one that can’t compete with Labyrinth and Vanished for drama. I was startled at how easily I could set this book aside, as I’ve read other entries in the series in a white heat, ignoring everything else that needed doing just to find out what happened next. Downpour is a competent addition to the series, but I missed the life-or-death breathlessness of Richardson’s earlier novels.
Perhaps Richardson is recovering from Harper’s death as much as Harper is. Certainly there is nothing about Downpour that will discourage me from reading Richardson’s next GREYWALKER novel. To the contrary, there is much that is encouraging, especially the picture of Harper living as normal a life as a woman who is of the Grey can live. I’m curious about where Richardson will take Harper, and any book that can make you long for the next one is doing something right.