by Laura Resnick, paranormal (2012)
DAW, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-7564-0733-9
Five books into the Esther Diamond series, and I'm starting to believe that I like the idea of the series more than the actual series itself. The whole premise of a feisty out-of-work actress stumbling into paranormal plots, one that promises plenty of comedy - all this sounds fun. The books seem to be on a downward slide, though.
This time around, Esther Diamond is an elf in the major Manhattan department store Fenster & Co. Fenster & Co is well known for its extravagant wonderland-style displays, and the place take things up a notch come the time for Christmas shopping. The staff turnover is high - maybe too high - so there's always room for an out-of-work actress to convince kids to ask their parents to buy them expensive toys come Christmas.
Unfortunately, it isn't long before things get weird. Things that shouldn't be animated, much less display a bloodthirsty streak for hapless heroines, start coming to "life" to kill Esther. Some people are hijacking the goods that are supposed to be delivered to the store, but that seems more like something the local Mafia would do, right? Not ghosts? As usual, Esther is in the thick of the holiday woo-woo.
Polterheist can be read as a stand alone story, but do note that several characters from previous books make an appearance here. They don't bring over baggage from previous books, however, so it's easy to catch up if you haven't read any books in the series before. The relationship between Esther and Detective Connor Lopez is carried over from previous books, however, so reading those books first is probably the best way to enjoy that one to the fullest. Not that I care, personally, since I'm still indifferent to the relationship. Lopez is still as dry as ever, and I still don't see the chemistry between him and Esther.
Okay, the story. While this one is definitely more smoothly executed - it's less of a non-stop information dump compared to the previous book Vamparazzi - but the repetitive information dumping moments are still here. Every time Esther meets a new secondary character, the whole premise gets brought up again - every point that has been repeated several times before, such as how there were three shipments missing from Fenster & Co - to the point that I start to dread the appearance of anyone who hasn't been briefed on the plot before. I don't understand why the author seeks to have Esther explain the same things so many times over the course of the story, as I don't see any pop quiz at the back of the book.
I also don't know what to make of this story. The main characters are in some spooky life-threatening situation, but they sure don't behave like people who have gone through such a situation. For example, Esther sees a singing teddy bear turn demonic and try to kill a customer. She ends up making a mess of the rescue, so much so that people assume she's assaulting that man. I'd expect Esther to feel shaken or concerned after this encounter, but no, a few pages down she's cooing with Lopez over how his father still calls him a little puppy. It's the same with other characters. Whether it's a close brush with a death or a frightening experience, they spend the aftermath cracking jokes, agonizing over trivial things like the ongoing soap opera in management, or, in Esther's case, mooning over Lopez.
Because most of the cast don't seem to care about the weird incidences around them, the story ends up pushing the plot to the background while holiday shopping madness and management soap opera from hell take precedence. By the two-third point of the book, the plot has barely moved and by then I don't even care about the plot anymore. Why should I, when nobody else seems to? The fact that the bad guys are as predictable as they come only add to the feeling that the plot seems to be an afterthought in the whole story.
Ultimately, Polterheist has characters who behave like they are in a story with a plot that is different from the actual plot they are stuck in. There is a huge disconnect here that makes it impossible for me to get into the story.
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