The best part about this engaging and energetic urban fantasy is the first person voice of the main character, a girl who discovers she has the ability to dispense justice in some very interesting ways. This is the third book in a row that I’ve read by an established author who decided to use a pen name, so it seems to be a trend right now. Jamie Quaid, pen name for bestselling romance author Patricia Rice, takes the well-established genre of urban fantasy and infuses it with some of the tried and true tropes of romance writing, with fantastic results.
Justine “Tina” Clancy is a law student living in Baltimore and working part-time in the Zone, a decidedly bad part of town where a chemical spill from a nerve gas factory has begun to infuse the people and objects there with magical properties. Gargoyles get up and walk away, and later return. The buildings glow in neon colors. And some of the residents can shift into animal form. Electronic devices rarely work anymore, or at least they aren’t always reliable. Tina works for the sexy but frustratingly aloof Andre, a man she lusts after and loathes at the same time. One evening while taking a deposit to the bank, her boyfriend Max appears, driving her car down the street. Unfortunately, Max is gunning the car and headed straight for Tina. In a fit of rage at his odd behavior, Tina damns Max to Hell, and the car erupts in a ball of fire, killing him in the process.
Shocked and upset, Tina goes home only to find a strange surprise waiting in her apartment. Max appears in the dresser mirror and tells Tina he is in Hell. From this point on, Max is able to sporadically communicate with Tina, even in the compact mirror she carries with her. Tina discovers she is one of Saturn’s daughters and is able to hand out karmic reward and punishment. As she starts investigating the reason that Max tried to run her down, several secrets are brought to light, and Tina must discover who is behind the scheme to shut down the Zone for good.
The story is told in first person through Tina’s eyes, and her smart and sassy observations about life in the Zone, the people she lives and works with, and especially the three hunks that are vying for her attention keep the story moving at a brisk and snappy pace. Tina’s development as a character was interesting as well. In the beginning of the story she describes herself as having lank and mousey hair, crooked teeth, and one gimp leg that is shorter than the other due to an unfortunate accident involving the police. After Max dies, her hair mysteriously becomes long and silky, a side effect of her abilities as a daughter of Saturn. And in true romance fashion, Quaid keeps the reader guessing as to which guy Tina will end up with. Andre is clearly the frontrunner, with his dangerous good looks and angry disapproval of Tina’s every move, but dead (ex)boyfriend Max is still tugging on Tina’s heartstrings, and shy but alluring Detective Schwartz, who is trying to untangle the mysteries of the Zone, is a potential love interest as well.
Tina has a posse of Zone friends who help her, including a stray cat named Milo, an invisible thief, and Max’s gang of biker buddies. And boy does she need help! Not only is she trying to pay the rent, but she’s about to graduate from law school, and finals are right around the corner. Somehow she manages to keep everything together, solve the crime of Max’s death, study for finals and end up lip-locked with one of her hot men. The only story element that got old after a while was Tina’s constant hiding from the bad guys. When she realizes someone is following her every move, she begins to sneak from place to place, leaving her car down the street to throw off her pursuers, and changing apartments. It was a bit confusing and I thought a lot of it could have been cut.
But I had such fun reading this book, and Tina’s infectious personality had a lot to do with that. The unique world of the Zone kept me interested from start to finish, and I particularly loved the way Max could communicate with Tina from Hell. By the time things wrap up at the end, Quaid has paved the way for the next book in the series, leaving just enough unexplained to make the reader anxious for the next installment. Sexy, fun, and dangerous are perfect words to describe this book. If you are a fan of urban fantasy or romance (or both), Boyfriend From Hell will be right up your alley.
Many thanks to Simon & Schuster (Pocket Books) & Edelweiss for supplying a review copy.