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Opalite Moon
Denise Vitola
Ace Books, 304 pages

Opalite Moon
Denise Vitola
Denise Vitola's first book in this series is Quantum Moon.

Quantum Moon Information
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A review by Lela Olszewski

Ty Merrick is a big-city homicide detective burned out by the petty frustrations of daily life and the problems of a bureaucracy that hinders rather than helps. When she and her partner, LaRue, are sent to investigate a triple homicide of three initiates of the underground Opalite sect, they know that only routine legwork that will break the case. So they set out to find their snitches, cross-check suspects stories, track down the elusive Opalites, and fight with their too-political boss.

If you are familiar with mysteries you'll recognize that Denise Vitola has written a police procedural in the classic form. The focus isn't on car chases or psychological games with the murderer, but on all the minute details that make up real police work. But she adds several layers to the story that enhance it, and make it unique even in the world of science fiction mysteries.

The first layer is that both Opalite Moon (and, before it, Quantum Moon, the first book in the series) are set in a future time when the world is a megalopolis, poverty is universal, and life is a nightmare of regulation. Energy reserves are depleted, so winters are harsh and cars are almost extinct. Recycling is a way of life. Imagine the world of Asimov's Caves of Steel crossed with Orwell's 1984 and you'll get a feel for what it's like, although Vitola's world is run by faceless bureaucrats, rather than Big Brother. And making police work even harder is one of the founder's rules: no one can be convicted of a crime unless they are caught in the act.

Another layer is that everyone hopes that New Age magic and mysticism will improve their lives, giving Vitola the opportunity to skewer true believers in addition to bureaucrats. Both Ty and her partner, Detective LaRue, are on to the scams, although they're always hoping that they'll find one that isn't a scam.

    Bernice Vaughn's Recycling Shop was as busy as it always was... Bernice didn't recycle trash, plastic, or aluminium, like you might think. Her scam, legally condoned by a government bent on reusing the world, was to deal in old magic... "We were wondering if you could help us with an investigation."
    "Of course. Don't I always?... I'm having a sale on magic eyeballs this week. Interested?"
    "What exactly are they?"
    She grinned. "Well, actually they're leftover Halloween candies. You know, stale gumballs, each with a bloodshot eye painted on it. Chew them up and you can get insight. Get it? Insight? They make great gag gifts and I got in a load just this morning."
    I could tell my partner was considering it, but surprised me by saying: "No, thanks, not this time. We're looking for used Opalite magic."

The third layer in the book is that Ty Merrick is a werewolf. Not your everyday supernatural werewolf, but a psychological werewolf: a victim of an industrial accident, the resulting damage affects her when the moon is full. In Quantum Moon she is referred to a research specialist and a psychiatrist, and much of the book follows Ty's soul-searching look at her condition. (It reminds me of Anne Perry's Face of a Stranger.) In Opalite Moon there is less soul-searching and more mystery, making for a better story.

If you enjoy cross-genre fiction you'll find her books a delight (although mystery readers may struggle with the science fiction elements). Vitola understands the resignation of seemingly futile struggles, but keeps her the book from being dour because she has an equal understanding of the creativity that people can exhibit when they are able to find loopholes and bend the rules. In fact, much of the fun of the book are all the scams she invents, from magic chairs to various ways to steal heating fuel. She is also able to knit all the various elements (mystery, science fiction, and the fantastic) together into a coherent whole, for a unique and satisfying read.

Copyright © 1997 by Lela Olszewski

Lela Olszewski is an avid reader of science fiction, fantasy, mystery and romance, as well as an eclectic mix of other fiction and non-fiction. She is also a librarian with an interest in readers' advisory, and believes fully in Rosenberg's Law: Never apologize for your reading tastes. She has no cats.

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