The Long Way Down: Daniel Faust Book 1 by Craig Shaefer
Ahhhh, a decent scratch for my itch!
The first book in this series worked out pretty well for me. Oh, there were some problems, but plenty of good stuff to help me get over those.
We have a Las Vegas magician who's a con-man, an occasional thief, and a survivor (In my head, it's the Marlowe trope -- the hero must get warned off the case and beaten nearly to death at least once. I see the long shadow of Chandler's The Big Sleep , but that book has a huge shadow). He's a guy with a moral compass that points more or less toward good, but he deals with bad people and has to use bad methods. Oh, and he has to save the world, although he doesn't know that until the third quarter of the book, which was nice. Everybody has to save the world in their first book. High stakes and all. There is plenty of dark underbelly and gritty reality here.
The reader, Adam Verner, does well as the voice of Faust, but his attempts at accents (in particular, a semi-sort of Scots accent) are painful. He needs a heavy dose of BBC programming as training. He does great with voices -- even his female voices sounded convincing and he differentiated between characters nicely -- but the attempts to do non-US accents was cringeworthy. Still, not a deal breaker.
I liked the story. The character hits the usual (practically required) traits -- abusive childhood, unsuccessful love life, often scrambling for money which leads him into trouble as he tries to make ends meet, strong loyalty to friends, a sense of right and wrong, a need to protect the helpless, and a tough guy attitude. Schaefer managed to shake those up a bit, though -- our tough guy hero is currently mourning rather deeply over a badly ended romance. His friends are his adopted family of magical folk, including an older gay couple who were his substitute fathers (and Yay for a non-stereotypical and positive depiction of gay men) and a couple of very strong women (also Yay, although one character is quite literally a Magical Negro, which makes me grin for the pun so no eye rolling). The majority of characters are full and round and fun to watch.
The plot starts in typical fashion as a small case leads to bigger and bigger things -- again, Schaefer pulled that off well enough that I didn't originally see it coming until about halfway through the book, so that's another good thing. Faust is another mouthy smart-ass, but...he doesn't have to have the last word, and because he's also a grifter, a con-man, he knows better. That was the best twist on the tropes I found -- a POV character who knew when to keep his mouth shut, who didn't always use force or threats to get information. I suspect the author might be a Leverage fan, which is all to the good. The plot switched things up nicely.
The one big problem in the book was the relationship between Faust and Caitlin. Caitlin is a succubus, and while that gets a bit toyed with as an obstacle, it isn't really brought into play. The relationship is essential to the book, but it was sort of hammered in whole (perhaps for the sake of a soft sex scene). The author decreed it to be so, and so it was. Not enough time, not enough interaction, and certainly not enough caution. I rather wonder if it was an editing decision, because a proper building of the relationship, even at high speed due to lust at first sight, would have taken some pages to accomplish and might have slowed down the pace of the book. It was not gracefully handled. Still, not a deal breaker. There were enough pieces for Instant Love, Just Add Water, but the author didn't really use enough of them.
That aside, the other relationships Daniel has in the book, in particular the ones with his "family", are well done and made me quite happy. Daniel's internal struggles make things interesting, although, again, there was an exchange of depth for speed, which is ok. As mentioned above, we have strong women and they do strong women stuff, and the gendering of roles wasn't marked strongly (The existence of the gay couple might have been used to mitigate this, but, hey, it's a genre novel and you can't have it all).
So, the end result is this series will be one I keep up with. I recommend it to those who are also seeking to scratch that hard-boiled, edgy, noir paranormal urban fantasy (sheesh, what a subgenre name!) itch.