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A Wolf at the Door
by K.A. Stewart
RoC, $7.99, 304pp
Release Date: August 7, 2012
Here is # 3 in the Jesse James Dawson series about demon-battling Champions: men and women who put their own souls up as ransom as they fend off the forces of malice. The previous novels are A Devil in the Details and A Shot in the Dark.

Unlike most protagonists, who are loners either by choice or harsh necessity, Jesse is very much a family man. He is married to the magic-wielding Mara, and they have a six-year old daughter named Annabelle, as well as a mastiff puppy. To round out the dynamics, there’s also Jesse’s apprentice, Esteban.

Jesse has only just recovered from last adventure’s injuries when Axel, the demon who helped Jesse last time in exchange for a Favor, as in the ‘Whatever you want, buddy, I’ll do it or die trying’ kind of favor, shows up to collect. I’m not sure I’d go so far as to describe Axel as a demon with a heart, or conscience, or whatever, but he definitely has a nice sense for looming danger, and a healthy sense of self-preservation. And if “I sold my soul for fame and succubus powers” actress Gretchen Keene dies with the 276 souls of hapless ex-lovers still stored in her hole, it will start a power-grab war among the demons who make Earth their playground. Axel very much wants to stay off the radar, so he enlists Jesse to keep Gretchen alive, at least long enough to find some way of rescuing, or redirecting, those 276 souls. Hey, it’s only for six days! How much could possibly go wrong in six days?

I enjoyed Jesse’s take on situations. When informed of the nature of Gretchen’s, um, nature, his thoughts are: “I’m sure there were easily 276 men who would sell their souls to spend the night with Gretchen Keene. I was honestly surprised it wasn’t more. And a demon contract did explain her meteoric rise to fame, starting about five years ago. Dammit, doesn’t anyone get by on their own merit anymore?”

Other really good scenes include Jesse getting a replacement katana from Marty, the reflections on magic and religion as variations on the theme of “if it quacks….”, and many, many of the LA vignettes. It’s good to find a narrative that balances esoteric conversations with laugh out loud moments.

K. A. Stewart is another in the growing number of women writing urban fantasy with a decidedly male protagonist. Sort of like a generation of Remington Steele Stephanie Zimbalists. Stewart does a better job than most of mimicking guy talk and guy perspective: Chapter 2 is a good, and very funny, example. The ‘tell’ for me was on page 8, when the phrase “He made one of those generic man-noises…” abruptly dispelled the illusion. The only time an actual man would write something like that is if he is writing from a woman’s perspective, as in the howlingly funny Dresden Files story from Detective Murphy’s point of view. Yes, I’m carping on this phenomenon, but it is so prevalent that it deserves commentary. Let me be clear: I think it is a welcome development that more and more authors are comfortable writing across the gender spectrum. We are, after all, all human before we are anything more specific. And Stewart’s writing is solid-good. Her characters have some verve and soul to them, a life of their own; they aren’t agendas on spec. So I really don’t care if the K. stands for Karen or Karel; and as long as the series is this much fun, I’m going to keep reading. ~~ Chris R. Paige, Tucson , AZ.

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