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Book Review: Doppelgangster by Laura Resnick

Genre: Paranormal Fantasy
Paperback: 400 pages
Publisher: DAW
Publication Date: January 5, 2010
ISBN-10: 0756405955
ISBN-13: 978-0756405953
Author Website: Laura Resnick

I first encountered Laura Resnick in short story form. I really enjoyed her tales but had a hard time fingering just what, exactly it was that I so enjoyed about her work. In the two anthologies in which I found short stories, both times I singled her tales out as the best of the anthology. I knew I liked it, but I just wasn’t sure why.

Then I got a copy of Doppelgangster in the mail. Technically the second in a series, this was the first book published by DAW about the strong yet feminine, young, Jewish actress Esther Diamond, who seems to get herself into all kinds of scrapes. This time, she is working as a waitress (between acting jobs) at a known mob hangout in New York City. With such an obvious set-up it is clear that Esther is about to get involved in the seedy yet idealized underbelly of organized crime. But unlike other mob tales, this one is a paranormal, and as such we soon find that there is a less than mundane solution to the hit that takes place before Esther’s very eyes. Teaming up with a semi-retired hit man named Lucky, her not very helpful cop boyfriend Lopez, and Max, the old Eastern European wizard and bookseller now stationed in NYC, she sets out to solve the mystery of the multiple mobsters, the doppelgangsters. If she and her friends don’t find a way to stop them, they may soon find themselves embroiled in a mob war, with their names at the top of the list!

The story combines two genres: the mob thriller and paranormal fantasy. In both cases, this story is about what you would expect in terms of content. There are no real surprises, although thankfully Resnick has chosen to avoid the inclusion of vampires or werewolves in her story, ending up with a narrative more akin to Jim Butcher or Harry Connolly than Patricia Briggs or Laurell K. Hamilton. The plot is fairly predictable, though it did enjoy a small twist or two, and has a couple of good action sequences. But where the setting, plotting, characters follow fairly standard paranormal fantasy parameters, there is something about Resnick’s writing that makes her work oddly compelling.

Perhaps it is her method of writing conversation. In the story, usually when three or more characters are having a heated discussion, she will loop the disparate dialogues inside and out of each other. It’s like the plotting of the conversation is a double helix, two strands twisting around each other, touching at just the right points to create a living thing. Through the mind of Esther, we follow two trains of thought at once, and it really heightens the mood the two or three times that Resnick uses it. As well, whereas many authors might say or let actions prove a particular character is intelligent, the way that Esther deftly weaves the sometimes conflicting dialogue in her mind proves it. I found that reading these twisty, turny conversations was the highlight of the novel. This is also what most attracted me to her short stories, as both contain clever repartee that reminds me of the conversations David Eddings would transcribe for his epic fantasy characters.

I also like that though there is a romance angle for this story, it does not follow the traditional paradigm, and though Esther is exquisitely feminine, she is also an independent woman. Her romance does not take the tack I expected, and Resnick is careful to have the romance end in a way that is faithful to the events of the novel, rather than simply fulfilling the wish fantasies of the reader. While Resnick certainly gives the paranormal fantasy reader everything they are looking for, she is also careful not to violate her own story or character development. That is to be appreciated in an author, and is something of a rare commodity in its subgenre.

Resnick also makes her stories action-full, without being action-ridiculous. Esther and her helpmeets don’t gallivant around NYC willy-nilly chopping off the heads of the doppelgangsters. The cops are a real and actual force to be reckoned with, and there are potential and very real consequences and dangers from their meddling in mob affairs.

The tale may be a tad too long, as about three-quarters of the way through I began to ask if Resnick was ever going to reach a resolution. By then, most of the ground work for character and setting had been developed, and it was time for the final confrontation. But Resnick prolonged it a bit with a few more semi-superfluous action sequences (doppelgangers of characters that did not need them or that were used to make revelations that could have been easily revealed in a less page-consuming manner. It kept the narrative from being truly tight.

All, in all, though, I found that for a reader who generally does not like paranormal fantasies, I was glued to the page. I like Esther, a lot, and were I single, she is just the kind of girl I would want to meet. Intelligent, clever, forceful, and brave, she kind of reminds me of my own wife. Maybe that is why I like Resnick so much, her writing, in whatever form I encounter it, resonates personally. Her fiction gets inside my head and bangs around in the empty space there. But unlike other stories that bounce right out again, hers just stick.