Carolyn Cushman Reviews Final Exam by Carol J. Perry and Marked by S. Andrew Swann

Carol J. Perry, Final Exam (Kensington 978-1-4967-1460-2, $7.99, 358pp, pb) March 2019.

A high school reunion goes wrong in this seventh mystery in the Witch City series set in Salem MA. Lee Barrett’s settling into her job as a TV news reporter, and she’s got a little extra time to help her Aunt Ibby prepare for her 45th high school reunion. But then a vintage car is discovered underwater in an abandoned quarry, bringing up a cold case from 45 years before, and it looks like murder might be involved. Lee’s boss expects her to keep on top of developments, but Aunt Ibby suddenly gets uncharacteristically close-mouthed as Lee’s investigation leads a little too close to home. This small-town mystery series with an entertaining amateur detective relies mainly on quirky characters for oomph, but though the returning alums have some in­teresting moments, they’re not that interesting as suspects – and how a librarian-in-the-making like Ibby managed to be in the popular crowd is more of a mystery than the murder. The fantasy elements are relatively minor, involving Lee’s frequently unhelpful visions and her cat, who always seems to know more than the humans but isn’t talking. The real fun this time out is watching Lee scrambling to turn hints into news stories, but this is ultimately a somewhat lack­luster installment in a generally engaging series.

S. Andrew Swann, Marked (DAW 978-0-7564-1502-0, $16.00, 327pp, tp) January 2019. Cover by Chris Gibbs.

What starts as a sort of police procedural ur­ban fantasy quickly turns weird in this quirky novel. Detective Dana Rohan solves crimes thanks to her secret ability to travel to alternate pasts and futures – but she hasn’t been careful enough, and ends up the subject of an internal investigation. Worse, she’s having encounters with nearly unstoppable human-like creatures – Shadows – that turn up out of nowhere and keep attacking. Dana ends up fleeing to other worlds with her partner Jacob and a knight from another dimension who helps guide her to a world where she might be able to get help – and explanations. Dana’s painfully clueless, doing things that attract the wrong attention, and having trouble telling allies from threats, but at least she comes up with some cool moves using her powers, which have interesting limitations and defenses. Her adventures steamroller along in a mix of fantasy, mystery, horror, and even steampunk. I’m not sure how much sense it all made, but it doesn’t really matter; just hold on tight and enjoy the ride.

Carolyn F. Cushman, Senior Editor, has worked for Locus since 1985, the longest of any of the current staff, and handles our in-house books database, writes our New and Notable section, and does the monthly Books Received column. She is a graduate of Western Washington University with a degree in English. She published a fantasy novel, Witch and Wombat, in 1994.

This review and more like it in the March 2019 issue of Locus.

Locus Magazine, Science Fiction FantasyWhile you are here, please take a moment to support Locus with a one-time or recurring donation. We rely on reader donations to keep the magazine and site going, and would like to keep the site paywall free, but WE NEED YOUR FINANCIAL SUPPORT to continue quality coverage of the science fiction and fantasy field.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *