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by Madelyn Alt
Berkley, January 2006
272 pages
ISBN: 0425207463

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Maggie O'Neill is drifting through life with a bad car and a worse job until the day she literally falls into Enchantments, an antique store run by Felicity Dow. Felicity treats her arrival as expected, and possibly it was -- Felicity is a practising witch and leader of a non-denominational group of ghost hunters. Unfortunately for Felicity, her psychic powers do not warn her that she is about to be arrested for the murder of her sister.

The facts are pretty damning; Felicity had been feuding with her sister for years, none of the sister's family liked her, and Felicity was first to find the body, which was still warm when the cops arrived. But Maggie is unconvinced. Positive that her charismatic new boss is innocent, sure that the hunky cop is too prejudiced against pagans to look for other suspects, Maggie sets out to solve the crime.

There is a lot to be said for this new Bewitching Mystery series, the foremost being that Alt gives realistic treatment to the variety of religions portrayed in the book. Felicity isn't a Hollywood kind of witch, she is simply following the neo-pagan religious tradition. I appreciated that. I appreciated even more that Maggie, as a lapsed Catholic, has realistic struggles. Accepting Felicity's faith isn't something that comes easily or unthinkingly to her.

Unfortunately, this is a first book in a new series by a new author, with all the rough spots that implies. Pacing is badly off, with basic questions about the murder not being asked until almost page 200. Plot complications are raised and dropped without much follow-through. There aren't enough clues given throughout for anyone to reliably be able to play the 'home game' and solve the mystery themselves.

The authorial voice (told first person through Maggie's point of view) occasionally dips into prose so purple it's practically ultraviolet: "Laughter trebled up from her throat, the bell-clear sound hugging around us like a mantle of softest cashmere" or "The voice was alive with that riff of authority that could always be relied upon in a person of the male persuasion." (All I can say is, I've met some men that Maggie obviously hasn't.)

After those the tone settles down, at least until Maggie decides to end an otherwise pleasant date with the gratuitous and jarring line "The gesture appealed to my feminine side. I know, I know, the feminazis would have a cow." I have no clue where that Rush Limbaugh moment came from, or why it was used to break up the emotional flow.

The tone problems last all the way through -- after the mystery is solved, the book ends with a 'something evil is out there' epilogue that sounds more appropriate to a horror novel than a cozy mystery.

This isn't to say that THE TROUBLE WITH MAGIC is a bad book. It's a pleasant, if uneven, way of spending an afternoon. But I hope that as the series progresses, the rough edges will be polished up.

Reviewed by Linnea Dodson, January 2006

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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