Grim Shadows is the second book in the Roaring Twenties series, a series of paranormal stand alone-romance novels set in San Francisco. The story is fun, the sex is hot, and the characters are interesting, but the setting and time period are what really make this series stand out.
Grim Shadows is about an archeologist and con man named Lowe who finds himself involved with an Egyptologist who happens to be the daughter of a man he (Lowe) is trying to swindle. The plot is very fun and engaging and involves humor and action and sexy times. All you really need to know about the plot is this:
1. Lowe and Hadley (the Egyptologist) have to run all over San Francisco looking for a MacGuffin. For those not in the know, a MacGuffin is an object that the hero(s) have to chase after and try to obtain so that there can be plot. Alfred Hitchock explained it thusly:
“[We] have a name in the studio, and we call it the 'MacGuffin'. It is the mechanical element that usually crops up in any story. In crook stories it is almost always the necklace and in spy stories it is most always the papers”.
In this case, it’s three parts of an Egyptian thingy that will affect a curse.
2. There are Egyptian curses all over the place. Hadley is cursed by shadows that attack everyone whenever she gets angry. Her father is cursed. Her whole family is cursed. Curses all around. The moral of this story is clearly, “Don’t steal stuff from Egypt, asshole. You don’t even live there. Back off, imperialist scum”. Or, as Cordelia famously remarked in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, “People, you’ve got to keep your tombs earthed”.
3. Hadley has a phobia about skin-to-skin contact. She wears all black but has colorful, embroidered underwear. Hmmm. I wonder how all that will work out.
Lowe is the brother of Winter Magnusson, the hero of the last book (Bitter Spirits). Lowe is smart, funny, and charming, but I had the same problem with Lowe that I did with Winter – I’m apparently supposed to think that he’s a Loveable Rogue but I actually think he’s a Lying Shithead. I’m just too uptight for a series that glorifies career criminals. Having said that, Lowe is great in his interaction with Hadley, other than the lying thing (and the lying thing is often very funny). I didn’t want Hadley to be with Lowe because I don’t trust Lowe and I never will – and at the same time, I wanted those two crazy kids to get together. I didn’t believe in the hero but I did believe in the romance.
Hadley had me at “I was giving a seminar on Middle Kingdom Animal Mummification at the University of Utah”. I adored Hadley. I loved her smarts and her struggle for acceptance in a male field. I loved her embroidered underwear. I loved her intelligence and her courage. I was heartbroken for her when her father gave her job to a man and I was happy for her any time she got respect (mostly from Lowe). I’m Team Hadley all the way. That helped me buy into the romance. I certainly wouldn’t want to date Lowe, but Hadley does, and I want Hadley to be happy, so you go, girl.
The romance is compelling, which is saying a lot given the fact that I don’t even like the male lead. I may not like him, personally, but I do like the way Lowe and Hadley interact. I like the humor and the paranormal element is pure wacky fun. But what makes this series stand out is the setting and time period. So many historicals focus on Regency England and the Roaring Twenties comes as a breath of fresh air. The clothes are stunning, the atmosphere is one of tension between repression and revelry, and the social structures are in the middle of transition between old and new money, which leads to all kinds of great rooms and buildings and tense social interactions. Because Lowe and Hadley are looking for three things, they get to run around all over San Francisco (and I love San Francisco!). They go into mansions and hovels and crematoriums and I loved every second of that.
One of the joys of this series is that its setting allows for a diverse supporting cast. So far the people of color have been supporting characters but I am overjoyed that the hero of the next book, Bo, is of Chinese descent. The books have been heavily hinting at a romance between him and Astrid, Lowe’s sister, and I’m so glad they are getting their own story. Bo has tons of potential to be a fascinating character and Astrid is a hoot, so my reaction is basically, “Here, Jenn Bennet, have my wallet. And my bank account. Don’t spend it all in one place. Unless you feel like it”.
The next book is titled Grave Phantoms. Cannot wait. Also if you are interested in the Roaring Twenties, be sure to check out Jenn Bennet’s Pinterest Board which is full of nommy goodness.