Welcome to this week’s“meeting” of the Preternatura Book Club! A few weeks ago, commenters voted on which novel they’d like to tackle first, and the winner by a landslide was Kim Harrison’s Dead Witch Walking, the first in her Hollows series featuring witch Rachel Morgan.
Our normal “meeting” day is on Wednesday but since I’d already scheduled a guest author to be here tomorrow, we’re meeting Tuesday this week only.
Here’s how it works. Each week, I’ll post a summary (spoiler alert!) on two chapters, and we’ll chat about them. Try to minimize spoilers beyond what’s happened in the book we’ve read so far. You can read along, read ahead, or just stop by and read the summaries. After the Book Club has been up a day, I’ll move it to archives so you can still come back and read. There’s a “Book Club” tab above. So, let’s get started!
DEAD WITCH WALKING, CHAPTERS 3 & 4: WHAT HAPPENS
When we last left Rachel, she’d made the decision to leave Interlander Security (the IS) as a runner, or sort of supernatural law enforcement officer, and go out on her own―even knowing that the only runner to quit the IS had been assassinated. To her shock, living vampire Ivy, the most successful IS runner, decides to leave as well, along with the pixy “backup,” Jenks. In exchange for joining her new enterprise, Jenks and Ivy wanted one of the three wishes Rachel got by letting her IS prisoner, a leprechaun, go. Rachel’s left with only one wish, which she uses to wish she doesn’t get caught letting the leprechaun go.
Chapter 3 begins with Rachel sitting in her cubicle on the 25th floor of the IS Tower with a raging hangover. She has turned in her resignation to her hated boss, Denon. Rachel knows Denon wants her gone, so she doesn’t think she’s in danger of being assassinated. At first that seems to be the case. Denon tears up her contract and gives her a half-hour to clear out her desk and beat it. All well and good until Ivy turns in her resignation and Denon has a cow–Ivy is much more valuable to the IS and the social-climbing Denton. But Ivy had the money to buy out her contract, and she comes from a rich and powerful vampire family. Denon doesn’t dare touch her, so he informs Rachel that since he can’t kill Ivy, he’ll come after her instead.
Denon’s a pig, basically. He’s big and powerful and is, like Ivy, a living vampire. But he was turned, not born to it, and so he’s always going to be second-class in the vampire world. But Rachel is afraid of him, and he hates her. So much so, we learn, that all the jobs Rachel’s had that went bad, that shattered her self-confidence, had been sabotaged by Denon. He tosses Rachel her final paycheck.
The cubicle next to Rachel’s belongs to Francis, an annoying Sonny Crockett wannabe. For those of you too young to know, Crockett was the Don Johnson character in the TV show “Miami Vice,” from back in the ’80s. So he’s kind of smooth and smarmy and charming. Francis has just gotten his witch classification, up from warlock―a lower ranking. Francis brags that he’s gotten Rachel’s desk, her caseload and her company car. Except she didn’t have a company car. Not only does he have a car Rachel never rated, but he’s headed out to interview Cincinnati Councilman Trent Kalamack in connection with sales of Brimstone, an illegal drug. Trent’s secretary was caught with it―which Rachel only knows because she knocks Francis over and steps on him. And the secretary, who was a warlock, is dead.
Rachel gets an idea: if she can prove the powerful Trent Kalamack is making money off illegal Brimstone, she can get Denon off her back.
Rachel’s about to pick up her final paycheck from where Denon tossed it, but is stopped by Jenks―he realizes the check is cursed by a black spell. Knowing salt water will break the curse, Rachel tosses some salt in a flower vase of water and pours it over the check. Sure enough, it was cursed.
Shaken, Rachel and Jenks leave IS and take the bus to Rachel’s apartment. She figures since the check had been cursed, it would take the IS a couple of days before trying anything else. She climbs the stairs to her apartment and finds all her things sitting in the hallway. She bangs on her landlady’s door, and is told that she’s basically a dead witch so she has to move. She finally threatens and bullies the landlady to return her rent money and deposit.
Rachel returns to her stuff in the hall and smells sulfur; Jenks confirms that everything she owns has been spelled. She can’t touch anything. Jenks has a friend who’ll come and put it all in storage until it can be un-spelled with salt water. She mourns her things, especially her autographed copy of a CD by the rock star Takata. As the chapter ends, a depressed Rachel―who’s been saved twice now by Jenks―is waiting for the bus to take her to the new office space Ivy has rented so she can regroup and decide what to do.
WHAT WE LEARN:
A little more about how things changed at the Turn. Forty years earlier, a bioengineered virus escaped and mutated, infecting a popular bioengineered species of tomato and killing off a quarter of the world’s humans. Some Inderlander species―including witches such as Rachel―were immune to the virus. Others, such as weres, living vamps and leprechauns got it but survived. The elves were wiped out. By the time it was over, the non-human species and human populations were about equal in size, so the Inderlanders came out of the closet. When things settled down, the humans had replaced law enforcement with the Federal Inderland Bureau, and the Inderlanders created the IS.
We also get a picture of what Rachel’s mission in this first book is going to be. She has a price on her head, and she thinks the best way to get out from under Denon’s wrath will be to snag Trent Kalamack and tie him to the drug ring.
New faces in these chapters to remember: Denon, the living vampire slimeball boss; Francis, the smarmy guy in the next cubicle; Trent Kalamack, the wealthy councilman who might or might not be involved in illegal drug sales; the rock star Takata.
I’m starting to get back into this now, and there was a lot I’d forgotten from my long-ago read. All the little touches of humor are great. And I love seeing how the relationship between Rachel and Jenks is developing. He’s saved her butt twice now, and she has a growing respect for him even while he still annoys the pants off her.
So, what struck you about these two chapters? Are you getting more invested in the story? Any surprises? Favorite moments? (I love when Rachel rubs her thumb and finger together in an implied threat to Jenks that she could squush him like a bug.)