Phaedra Weldon,
Zoe Martinique Investigations #1: Wraith
(Ace, 2007)

In a publishing world overflowing with vampires, werewolves, werecats and zombies, Wraith offers something different.

Zoe Martinique has the ability to slip out of her body and move invisibly among most people (although a few special people, conveniently including her mother and her best friend, can see her). Although she isn't able to project her astral form to other locations, she is able to move her invisible self around the greater Atlanta area either by walking or by hitching rides in other folks' cars. She uses this ability as a mercenary of sorts, taking money in exchange for spying on people and reporting on their conversations or actions.

Everything changes when she witnesses a murder -- and the killer is, like her, an astral projection. She doesn't have the ability to manipulate objects, much less kill or even touch people in this form, so imagine her surprise when the killer grabs her -- and, although she manages to escape, his bruise-like handprint remains on her arm as a constant reminder of her vulnerability. At the same time, her abilities begin to change, and Zoe's in no way able to figure them out.

Wraith is a fresh concept on the urban fantasy market, and author Phaedra Weldon will probably finagle Zoe into a successful series. But there's one very big problem standing in her way.

Zoe is a very annoying character.

I don't mean to her supporting cast, who largely seem to like her just fine, but to readers, who are subjected to a constant barrage of pointless, annoying and mostly unfunny asides. The trick of having a character speak directly to the reader isn't new, but it's one that must be used carefully and shouldn't ever be overused and abused to the extent it is here. It got to the point I dreaded another parenthesis in the text. Here's a particularly irritating example, from a scene in which she is supposed to be engaged in a fairly serious search:

Unluckily -- I didn't find Jack Shit (ever wondered who Jack was -- and why on earth his mother married a guy named Shit?).

Ha ha flippin' ha.

Most of Zoe's asides are about her libido, and she feels it is necessary to remind readers constantly just how horny she really is. And, while most of her attention is focused on the cop who is investigating the murder she secretly witnessed, she certainly isn't shy about expressing her urges toward pretty much any guy who strikes her fancy.

Plus, a rape in Zoe's past is employed just a little too often as a sympathy-garnering device.

As for the supporting cast, Zoe's best friend is a caricature of quirky goth behavior, her mom is overbearing and secretive, and the lusty cop is pretty bad at his job, if his habit of going into detail about an ongoing murder investigation to a stranger in a bar is anything to go on. The two gay ghosts who live in Zoe's mother's house have potential, although they were a little flat here.

I won't give up on Weldon because I like the concept and overall plot-building, so if the sequel to Wraith crosses my desk, I'll certainly give Zoe another try. But damn, I hope Zoe will have learned by then to keep some of her thoughts to herself.

review by
Tom Knapp

26 July 2008

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