Urban fantasy books are more and more common these days, the norm being strong female protagonists and extensive use of magic. I've complained recently that too many of these books are too similar, with only the details being changed. It was therefore with great pleasure that I stumbled upon Laura Resnick's new book, Doppelgangster. Most of my complaints about the genre are gone, but I don't know if that's because this is a comedy or if it's something else. Resnick has produced a brilliantly funny novel that's a joy to read.
Esther Diamond is a struggling New York actress who has just been let go from a horrible play that nevertheless paid the bills. As she looks for other work, she returns to waitressing at a Manhattan restaurant frequented by mobsters, something that her potential new boyfriend, Detective Lopez, isn't happy with. As she tries to make ends meet, duplicated gangsters start appearing right before the originals of these gangsters start getting killed off. It's up to Esther and her friend Max the Magician to figure out what's going on and put a stop to Evil's plans before a general Mob War breaks out. She also has to keep Lopez in the dark that she's involved in all this.
I read Doppelgangster on a trip home from vacation and finished it before I made it home - it was that hard to put down. Resnick laces the narrative with a wicked sense of humor. A great example is Lucky, the lovable mobster who joins Max and Esther in trying to stop what's going on. He reminds me a lot of Jelly in the Analyze This movies; he'll whack you if it becomes necessary, but otherwise he's got a heart of gold. He has a paternal affection for Esther that results in him trying to protect her most of the time. In fact, a lot of the humor is similar to the Analyze This movies, at least regarding the clash between mob figures and those "normal" people who merely intersect with them. The difference in attitudes between Esther and Lucky presents some great comic set pieces.
This is more than just a humor book, though. Resnick develops an interesting plot as well, one which doesn't follow the conventions of most of this genre. Max is the Occult expert, and Esther just rides along and helps him as necessary; she wouldn't be involved in this at all if the first gangster hadn't been murdered right in front of her. While Resnick does mention Evil (with a capital "E") as a force trying to sow chaos in the world, nobody is part of some secret organization that's trying to protect the world (Max is, but it's only mentioned in passing and he doesn't call in any help).
The greatest strength of Doppelgangster lies in Resnick's prose and dialogue. The words flow from the page; the banter between the characters is funny yet realistic. I was never thrown out of the book because something was too absurd to be believed. The intricate plot does take a couple of strange turns and the climax is a little rushed, but overall the plot hangs together quite well.
One major strike against the book, however, is the absolutely horrible copyediting. Missing words are abundant, misspelled words are way too common for a book bought at a bookstore (as opposed to the Advanced Reader Copies and bound galleys that reviewers sometimes get). A number of times I had to fill in the word that I was sure was supposed to go into a sentence to make it actually make sense. I know that no book is perfect and you can always pick out a misspelling or two, but Doppelgangster had way too many. That threw me out of the book more than anything else.
That doesn't take away from the greatness of Resnick's story, though. If you want a slightly different brand of urban fantasy that will make you laugh, you can't go wrong with this book. Make sure you read it in a place where you can laugh out loud occasionally, as you most surely will.