Omens: Original new supernatural mystery series

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I have a confession to make. Sometimes, I cheat on the fantasy genre. That femme fatale Mystery is often the one who lures me away. This year I’ve been feeling particularly… polygenreous… and Kelley Armstrong’s Omens was just what hit the spot when I wanted to have my cake and eat it too.

The CAINSVILLE series is a departure from Armstrong’s previous work in the WOMEN OF THE OTHERWORLD books. It’s heavier on the mystery, lighter on the fantasy, and the heroine, Olivia Taylor-Jones, is more of a “normal human” than Elena and her fellow otherworldly women.

Olivia is a Chicago department-store heiress whose life seems set in its privileged but dull course, until the day she learns she was adopted. And that her birth parents are convicted serial killers. She finds out the same day the paparazzi do, and in short order, both Olivia’s adoptive mother and Olivia’s fiancé prove to be more concerned about themselves in the wake of this bombshell than about how it’s affecting Olivia. So, she decides it’s time to strike out on her own, for the first time in her life.

A series of strange and creepy events lead Olivia to the small — and rather odd — town of Cainsville. There, she experiences things like waiting tables and renting an apartment for the first time, and also begins to manifest a talent for reading omens; i.e. she’ll see a group of birds and be able to sense what they’re predicting for her immediate future. And when she visits her birth mother, Pamela Larsen, in prison, she starts digging into her parents’ alleged murders in the hopes she’ll learn whether they were guilty or innocent. Specifically, in this first book, she investigates the last of the crimes — the one Pamela thinks will be the easiest to prove they didn’t commit.

Olivia is a great, relatable character; her newfound drive toward independence is easy to cheer for, and she’s smart and stubborn and resourceful. She has a teensy ruthless streak, but not enough to make her unlikable. And like most of us, she really wants a loving family. One of the things Armstrong does best here is Olivia’s conflicted feelings about Pamela. Of her adoptive parents, Olivia was closer to her father, now dead, while her mother was more distant. When Olivia and Pamela meet again, Pamela obviously loves her daughter, and Olivia’s initial distaste evolves into an absolutely aching hope that Pamela is innocent so that she can feel OK with loving her back.

Olivia’s partner in trying to solve the case is Gabriel Walsh, Pamela’s lawyer. I’m not completely sure what I think of him yet. Olivia may have a ruthless streak, but in Gabriel it’s more than a streak. I think he’s being set up as a love interest, and I’m not sure I want to root for that yet — though he shows signs of softening a bit as the book progresses.

The mystery is interesting, and it caused me to put my finger on something I love in books but have never quite articulated before — I love stories about old, cold cases. When I think about it, a lot of the mysteries I love have dealt with decades-old crimes that have to be pieced together from what little information still remains. Omens resolves one aspect of the alleged Larsen murders, but there’s so much still to learn.

There are a lot of other little touches in Omens that I loved: the gargoyles in Cainsville; the omens, which are a type of magic that isn’t trod over and over and over already; and the plethora of fascinating older female characters, which are often hard to find! (I even sympathized with Maggie, the waitress I think I was supposed to dislike; it’s obvious that there’s something supernatural behind her “incompetence” (like the milk spoiling) and I would love to see her again and find out what’s going on with her.)

CAINSVILLE is an original new series that offers an engaging blend of mystery and fantasy, and Omens is a good first book that has me quite hooked. I’ve already started the second book, Visions.

Cainsville — (2013-2014) Publisher: Twenty-four-year-old Olivia Taylor Jones has the perfect life. The only daughter of a wealthy, prominent Chicago family, she has an Ivy League education, pursues volunteerism and philanthropy, and is engaged to a handsome young tech firm CEO with political ambitions. But Olivia’s world is shattered when she learns that she’s adopted. Her real parents? Todd and Pamela Larsen, notorious serial killers serving a life sentence. When the news brings a maelstrom of unwanted publicity to her adopted family and fiancé, Olivia decides to find out the truth about the Larsens. Olivia ends up in the small town of Cainsville, Illinois, an old and cloistered community that takes a particular interest in both Olivia and her efforts to uncover her birth parents’ past. Aided by her mother’s former lawyer, Gabriel Walsh, Olivia focuses on the Larsens’ last crime, the one her birth mother swears will prove their innocence. But as she and Gabriel start investigating the case, Olivia finds herself drawing on abilities that have remained hidden since her childhood, gifts that make her both a valuable addition to Cainsville and deeply vulnerable to unknown enemies. Because there are darker secrets behind her new home and powers lurking in the shadows that have their own plans for her.

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KELLY LASITER, with us since July 2008, is a mild-mannered academic administrative assistant by day, but at night she rules over a private empire of tottering bookshelves. Kelly is most fond of fantasy set in a historical setting (a la Jo Graham) or in a setting that echoes a real historical period (a la George RR Martin and Jacqueline Carey). She also enjoys urban fantasy and its close cousin, paranormal romance, though she believes these subgenres’ recent burst in popularity has resulted in an excess of dreck. She is a sucker for pretty prose (she majored in English, after all) and mythological themes.

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4 comments

  1. “polygenreous…” OMG, Kelly, that is flippin’ brilliant!

    I haven’t gotten into earlier Armstrong work, but this sounds good. You and I like a lot of the same things and cold cases intrigue me too — it’s the element of a history or a secret history, I think. And gargoyle and birds? I am sooo there.

  2. Yeah, I think this looks intriguing, too. You made me want to pick up this book, Kelly. Thanks a lot. :|

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