Scribbler’s Saga #8 – Dead Witch Walking (Coverage)

Posted: June 10, 2016 in Uncategorized

Analyst: G.N. Jacobs © 2016

Title: Dead Witch Walking

Written by: Kim Harrison

Format: Book____X Screenplay_____ Play_____ Article_____ Movie_____ Verbal Pitch_____ Short Story_________________

Grade:   Recommend_____ Maybe/Rewrite____X Pass_____

Logline: A young witch/bounty hunter frustrated with working for the magical creatures police quits en masse in the company of a living vampire. In order to survive through the week amid death threats from her former employer, she begins investigating one of Cincinnati’s most elite citizens for a variety of crimes, including illegal biotechnology.

Summary:

Rachel Morgan has been on a losing streak with assigned cases for the Inderland Security agency that frankly a kindergartener should pull off blindfolded. Tonight, that means waiting out a leprechaun on a completely boring tax matter in a bar somewhere deep in the Northern Kentucky suburbs of Cincinnati, known locally as the Hollows. Curiously or fortuitously, someone from the office happens to be sitting at the bar, three seats down: Ivy Tamwood.

The events of the evening, though successful, induce Rachel to turn in her badge, essentially breaking an ironclad blood oath contract to the Inderland Security agency. Considering that her supervisor prefers she leave, the actual risk of assassins seems low…until Ivy Tamwood, a living vampire, joins her new friend in the walkout.

Rachel, Ivy and Jenks, a pixie, move into an abandoned church deep in the Hollows suburb, where Cincinnati’s supernatural creatures cluster together. The church seems perfect for an enterprising witch out to start making money as a bounty hunter and witch enforcing the separation between humans and Inderlanders, the slang for supernatural creatures. Yes, the church may have bodies in the yard, but there is a witch’s garden there too, made more potent for the old bodies.

Thus begins a week and a half of various assassins sent by the I.S. trying to kill Rachel. Her things have been cursed to kill her. Faeries shoot splat balls across the wall intercepted by Jenks and his many pixie children. It seems that everyone in the greater Cincinnati area has a bet on how long Rachel might last.

Rachel shakes off the rust of her witch skills mixing ingredients from the garden to rebuild her standard charms that she can’t use due to the I.S. cursing her possessions. In the meantime, she also has to figure out Ivy Tamwood’s intent and needs as a vampiric roommate leading to being given a dating book to avoid certain behaviors. Rachel decides to investigate Trent Kalamack, Cincinnati’s richest citizen because of longstanding suspicions that the wealthy man might be backing production, distribution and sale of the drug Brimstone.

On two occasions, Rachel drinks a transmutation potion turning her into a mink in order to sneak into the Kalamack estate for evidence. The second time she is captured and cruelly tossed into illegal rat fights. A rat with whom she fought also turns out to be a magically transformed person and they plot their escape.

Rachel brings her evidence of Trent Kalamack’s involvement with bio drugs, outlawed since a DNA experiment resulted in deadly tomatoes, to the Federal Inderlander Bureau, a human-run rival police agency to Inderlander Security. A corrupt officer at Inderlander Security is arrested during the big raid and offers to testify against Trent Kalamack, only to be killed during a prisoner transfer.

With FIB backing, Rachel earns her freedom from the I.S. assassins, but Trent Kalamack goes free…

Evaluation:

I see the Rachel Morgan/Hollows Series as a TV show, mostly because the dramatic problem of trying to distract assassins by providing something else of greater value seems like a TV pilot problem, not something on which to hang $200,000,000 movie budgets. With 12 other books to read, the wealth of material also suggests some kind of TV show in the style of The Dresden Files.

As a read, I did root for Rachel Morgan, but I found myself more interested in the world building where Dr. Watson and company’s pioneering work on DNA led to a virus attaching to tomatoes (Yes, we’ve all seem ‘Attack of the Killer Tomatoes’) that killed enough humans to allow the supernatural creatures to appear openly after centuries in hiding.

Like any flawed dude, I found the implied almost pornography between Rachel and Ivy as the ladies learn the necessary boundaries between vampires and everybody else fascinating at the level of pornography. A part of me didn’t want the cliché pullback at the last minute, as figuring out how the ladies get along after a good supernatural lesbian screw might have been more interesting to read.

As you may see reading between the lines in the above paragraphs, I changed my initial opinion from Recommend this as the pilot of a TV show to Maybe this is a pilot. In part, this is because I’m spending too much time talking about the world in which Rachel Morgan moves than about Rachel herself. Learning about how her Earth witchcraft, demonology and other supernatural magic works ultimately proved more enlightening than Rachel Morgan’s need to feed the police a really bad person to get free of the bad feelings caused by her walkout with Ivy.

I think my ambivalence for Rachel comes from the essential truth that it seems absolutely crazy that she would choose to pick a fight with Trent Kalamack in order to throw him under the bus in her place. Mr. Kalamack at the time of her decision hadn’t, to paraphrase the late Muhammad Ali, called Rachel the witch equivalent of the N-Word. He hadn’t killed or mistreated a sister nor other family member. He hadn’t stiffed her for alimony nor squished her favorite cat under his limousine.

This leads reasonable people to question characters who without any kind of police authority decide to go after big fish like the being ensconced in the center of Cincinnati’s society and business circles. In the real world, we like to talk big about resisting various extremely wealthy people, but beyond a reflexive vote against their positions come election time, we tend to think along the lines of ‘I don’t bother them, they don’t bother me.’

I’m pretty sure that this is a backhanded way of suggesting that Rachel Morgan had other targets in her quest for freedom from the contract put out on her by Inderland Security. She could go after the supervisor that wants her killed. Surely, this guy has the kind of skeletons that can lead to a scene of blackmail poker where she doles out what she’s learned bit by bit to twist the knife for the benefit of the reader? This hypothetical revised plot might save Trent Kalamack as the surprise villain at the end, as well.

Regardless of the slight weakness of Trent Kalamack’s structural relationship to Rachel Morgan, I did find him to be a well drawn villain with an appropriate level of cruelty that he drove the scenes in which he appeared. His matter of fact demeanor while he has Rachel as a mink in a cage on his desk hyped up my interest in seeing Rachel figure out how to escape. Wow!

For the purposes of the series, Trent Kalamack with his wealth, power and bruised ego from almost getting arrested at Rachel’s behest very clearly fills the function of a Blofeld or a Moriarty: the recurring villain sure to come back. The pixie, Jenks, can’t sniff out if the man is human, Inderlander or something else, surely a setup for a big reveal in a later book. It’s a pity that we’re introduced to him by means of a heroine that just seemingly randomly picks an evil rich billionaire to investigate rather than go out seeking justice through other means.

I suppose the real question about Rachel Morgan is whether enough exists on the page to risk green lighting a series based on her adventures. I do think the right TV writer will look at this book and next few in the series and will find the hooks to make her interesting for TV. Let’s see, her father, also an operative for Inderlander Security, died under suspicious circumstances. She hangs out with vampires in a Northern Kentucky ghetto for supernatural creatures. Luckily, there are more stories to read to see how the series picks up over time.

To recap, I MIGHT wish to see Rachel Morgan on the small screen if the TV writer attached does a really good job giving this woman a better reason to do things. MAYBE/REWRITE.

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