This Case is Gonna Kill Me: Urban fantasy and legal thriller

This Case is Gonna Kill Me by Phillipa BornikovaThis Case is Gonna Kill Me by Phillipa Bornikova

One of the things I find most interesting in urban fantasy is when real-world problems intersect with fantasy problems in unexpected ways — the legal system being one of them. Thinking back to the early ANITA BLAKE novels, they dealt regularly with the weird legal issues that crop up when supernaturals are involved. Phillipa Bornikova continues in that tradition with This Case is Gonna Kill Me, featuring Linnet Ellery, a freshly minted lawyer who’s just been hired at a firm run by vampires.

The intersection between the legal and the supernatural, here, is a question of inheritance. Linnet’s new case pits a dead man’s estranged widow and children against the man he transformed into a werewolf; which has the greater claim to being his “progeny” (and thus the greater claim to his huge estate)? When one of Linnet’s fellow attorneys is murdered, Linnet realizes that someone involved is willing to kill for that inheritance. Then her wits and ethics are tested when she discovers a secret that puts the interests of her firm at odds with the real truth of the situation. We also see Linnet deal with several side cases that also illuminate facets of her world and her character.

Linnet is a well-rounded, fully-developed character. She doesn’t fit into the impossibly-tough trope; she’s an ordinary woman, scared like any of us would be in her shoes, who rises to the occasion. She comes from a family that enjoys great privilege but is dysfunctional beneath the surface. She’s sometimes annoying, especially in her obsession with everybody’s weight. She has passions and interests outside of paranormal lawyering. In short, she feels “real,” and thus is easy to empathize with.

Bornikova’s action scenes are fantastic. They’re visceral, they’re scary as hell, and the stakes are always clear — when someone dies, we feel it, and it hurts.

There are two sexual/romantic threads in the plot. One of them is a rather creepy situation, and it reads as creepy, which is a credit to Bornikova’s writing. The other has a lot of potential for development in future books, though in this one it progresses to the L-word a little too soon and could have used some more buildup before getting there.

Another strand of the plot is Linnet’s battle against the glass ceiling. Vampires, in this world, never bite women and never turn them into vampires. And seeing as only vampires advance to the highest positions in the firm, the upward mobility of the female lawyers is severely limited. Linnet’s salvos against the firm’s “Mad Men” atmosphere are fun to watch.

In a few places, the story slows down for scenes that don’t have much bearing on the plot. The horseback riding, for example, while it helps develop Linnet as a character, gets more page space than it needs. Another scene that stood out to me was one where Linnet meets a wide-eyed tourist couple, gives them directions, and assures them that the city is safe. I felt a sense of foreboding while reading this scene and pretty much expected that the wife would be mistaken for Linnet somehow and the couple murdered. This doesn’t happen. It’s not that I’m rooting for characters to die horrible deaths per se; it’s more that this scene could have developed both the plot and the setting (in terms of showing how rural dwellers view the supernaturals in the cities) and instead only develops the setting.

But these are minor speed bumps in a novel that had me carrying it around all day because I couldn’t wait to see what happened next. If you like both legal thrillers and urban fantasy, you won’t want to pass this one up. Bornikova spins a suspenseful story with a relatable voice, plenty of action, and a fairly realistic look at what our world might be like if supernatural beings openly existed in it. I look forward to a sequel.

What happens when The Firm meets Anita Blake? You get the Halls of Power—our modern world, but twisted. Law, finance, the military, and politics are under the sway of long-lived vampires, werewolves, and the elven Alfar. Humans make the best of rule by “the Spooks,” and contend among themselves to affiliate with the powers-that-be, in order to avoid becoming their prey. Very loyal humans are rewarded with power over other women and men. Very lucky humans are selected to join the vampires, werewolves, and elves—or, on occasion, to live at the Seelie Court. Linnet Ellery is the offspring of an affluent Connecticut family dating back to Colonial times. Fresh out of law school, she’s beginning her career in a powerful New York “white fang” law firm. She has high hopes of eventually making partner. But strange things keep happening to her. In a workplace where some humans will eventually achieve immense power and centuries of extra lifespan, office politics can be vicious beyond belief. After some initial missteps, she finds herself sidelined and assigned to unpromising cases. Then, for no reason she can see, she becomes the target of repeated, apparently random violent attacks, escaping injury each time through increasingly improbable circumstances. However, there’s apparently more to Linnet Ellery than a little old-money human privilege. More than even she knows. And as she comes to understand this, she’s going to shake up the system like you wouldn’t believe….

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KELLY LASITER 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.

View all posts by Kelly Lasiter

5 comments

  1. Great review. I’ve avoided this book because of the blurb comparing it to Anita Blake. I’ve no interest in another one of those types of series. Perhaps the publisher didn’t mean the downhill slide when they reference the series. I did enjoy the first three books in that series, but I am loathe to even see it discussed, never mind see books mention it’s a cross of Anita Blake and anything. I’m leery.

  2. The funny thing is that the Anita comparison is accurate…in a way. Like I said, it deals with similar issues as some of the really, really early Anita books. Like…wasn’t there a case in one of them about whether, if you get turned into a vampire, you’re “dead” and your heirs get your property even though you’re still up and walking around? That’s the kind of issue I could see cropping up in the Linnet Ellery books.

  3. It’s been too long since I read those first 3. I just remember that the first was probably the best, 2 was good, 3 was questionable because of some weird snake creature…but I kept reading and they went off the rails book by book, getting more and more tawdry with less and less plot. I don’t even know the last number I tried, but I know I had already stopped buying them and was picking them up at the library. I think I read 3 pages and took it back. It was an embarrassment to have even checked it out.

    I’ll keep this one in the back of my list and if I come across it in the library, I’ll give it a closer look based on your review.

  4. I finally ordered this one. I hope it’s good…

    :>)

  5. I’m 40 pages in and absolutely NOTHING has happened. Wow. I normally give a book 30 pages or so, and this has been mildly interesting at times, but I’ve set it aside for now. Office politics are way too much like my last job and she’s not exactly impressing me with her idea of wanting to be part of the group. I know there is a story in there, but I don’t know when it is going to start.

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  1. Thoughtful Thursday: Happy Endings | Fantasy Literature: Fantasy and Science Fiction Book and Audiobook Reviews - [...] Today we welcome Phillipa Bornikova whose first novel This Case is Gonna Kill Me has recently been published by …

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