The Magician's Daughter
Review: Valentine Hill is busking — performing magic tricks to entertain visitors and getting cash in return — on the streets of Las Vegas when teenager Ashley comes up to her and says she looks just like her dad's girlfriend, who turns out to be the mother Valentine has been searching for, in The Magician's Daughter, the first mystery in this series by Judith Janeway.
Valentine, who has just been fleeced by her boyfriend taking her money and heading for San Francisco, decides that she can recover her money and find her mother at the same time. But when she arrives at the address given by Ashley, she's beaten up, knocked unconscious, and wakens next to a dead man. Her mother, who had been in the apartment, has escaped. Valentine later learns that her mother was helping the FBI, but in what capacity she doesn't know, as the agent who befriended her is later found tortured and murdered. On the run now, Valentine must trust her own instincts on what to do next and more importantly, who she can trust.
Valentine Hill is, to be sure, a unique character. Neurotic, probably bi-polar, definitely passive/aggressive, and possessed with any number of phobias, she's not an easy character to identify with let alone like. Oh, and by the way, she's a savant with numbers, memorizing them instantly and able to recite long strings of them at a later date. She also has no official identity: no social security number, no government ID, only 27 library cards issued from cities across the US. She doesn't even know her own age and is unsure of her birth month and day. She has lived her adult life by three simple rules, but within the first few chapters she's broken two of them and by the end of the book she'll have broken the third as well. She bounces from one supporting character to the next, doing more to alienate them than befriend them. For the first half readers are taken on a whirlwind journey seen through Valentine's eyes, and while it's not hard to keep track of what's going on, it is hard to care. One might think that given the title of the book, there might be some grand illusion involved at some point, and one would be wrong. True, Valentine does do a few magic tricks here and there, but they seem forced and incongruous and for the most part aren't really important within the context of the plot. Still, around the halfway point, things start to settle down, indeed Valentine starts to settle down, and the story actually sharpens and gets kind of interesting. There is a scam going on involving international drug trafficking, and the authorities need her help in taking the leader down. No magic tricks necessary, though one or two would have been a welcome addition. It's a little unfortunate that the author didn't get to this point much sooner, spend more time on the setup and execution of capturing the bad guys, and then maybe spring a surprise twist separate to the much foreshadowed and hardly surprising "twist" that closes the book; it would have made for a much more compelling read.
Acknowledgment: Maryglenn McCombs Book Publicity provided a copy of The Magician's Daughter for this review.
Review Copyright © 2015 — Hidden Staircase Mystery Books — All Rights Reserved
Location(s) referenced in The Magician's Daughter: Las Vegas, Nevada; San Francisco, California
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The Magician's Daughter by Judith Janeway — A Valentine Hill Mystery
Publisher: Poisoned Pen Press
Publication Date: February 2015
List Price: $24.95
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Page Author: Lance Wright
Site Publisher: Mysterious Reviews
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