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Divine Misdemeanors
by Laurell K. Hamilton
(Ballantine, $26, NC-17)  ISBN  978-0-345-49596-9
***
A drastic improvement over the previous novel in the Meredith Gentry series, Divine Misdemeanors takes our real-life fairy princess back to her home-away-from-home, Los Angeles, and puts her back on the case at the Grey (now Grey & Hart) Detective Agency.

Merry and her many men have been doing a lot of fluff work because the people with all the cash like being seen with the sidhe.  However, when a friend on the police force calls her in on a murder case, Merry knows things are going to be bad.  Since a media frenzy dogs her footsteps constantly, it has to be drastic to warrant her official help.  Unfortunately for everyone, Merry's right on that assumption; the first murder scene is a deliberate facsimile of a classic fairytale illustration, using real demi-fey who have been slain and dressed to match the painting.  A second murder scene in a similar theme forces police and Merry's L.A. court to accept that there is a fey serial killer on the loose.  The killer likely being fey, considering he or she was able to trick or catch the demi-fey (the "wee" ones, who are considered the heart of faerie), makes things further complicated because of Merry's status in the courts.

In the last book, Swallowing Darkness, Merry and Doyle passed up the crowns of Faerie to save not only Frost but everyone from both courts that they are protecting.  Now, however, Merry is coming to realize what her guards have likely known all along: she will never be safe, and giving up the crown did not necessarily save her from assassination.  Her crowd of alpha males makes their opinion known about her needlessly putting herself in a dangerous situation, but most soon come to realize that Merry and the resources at her disposal are the best chance the city has of making and keeping its fey safe—and who knows better than Merry what it means to be exiled?

Of course, given Hamilton's love of endless and useless dialogues, Merry's men have other things to complain about. One honestly essential argument comes from Barinthus, one of her most powerful, who is angry that she denied the crown when she could have saved at least one—if not two or all three—courts of Faerie.  It is a common theme throughout the novel, and one that needed to be addressed.  Naturally, some of the more pointless conversations lead to sex and additions of new lovers, but Divine Misdemeanors is about Merry's changing relationship with her men, her new relationship with the country of her birth, and the growing relationship she will always have with the world of faerie.

Fans should be warned not to let the very slow start or pointless tidbits warn them off; Hamilton seems to be sending Merry back to the origins of the series.  Though the mystery element is weak, it shows improvement and lends some action to a story that would probably otherwise be bad dialogue-driven.  The growth and changes in many of the characters is apparent but not blatant, and those who are attached to the Meredith Gentry series will appreciate that the most.  Those who haven't read any of the other books won't find it exceptional, and may even find it hard to understand given the short but hugely busy span of time that has been covered by so many books.  A definitely "must read" for fans of Hamilton or the Merry Gentry books; not a starting place for those who are just getting into it.

--Sarrah Knight


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