In "The Big Keep" Melisa Olsen moves away from vampires,witches and werewolves to write a story about an ex-Chicgao cop turned Private Detective.
I knew from the first chapter, "Little Sticks of Destiny", that I would enjoy this book. The little sticks are pregnancy testing kits and the novel starts with Lena Dane staring at the recently peed-on stick in her hand that declares that it is her destiny is to become a mother in a few month's time. While she's still struggling to come up with a reaction to this information, she meets a potential new client: a teenage boy in search of his father. She takes on the case partly out of sympathy for the boy and partly to distract herself from her newly declared destiny.
I loved the originality of the opening. I can't remember ever having read a story opening with a PI finding she's pregnant. I loved the humour in the writing and in the dialogue, the fact that the characters are both real and likeable, the easy to read, natural writing style and the strong orientation towards relationships over plot.
The book more than lived up to my expectations.It is a book about what it means to be in a family. The characters are richly drawn and the relationships between them seem authentic. Lena Dane is a good PI but she isn't superhuman. She isn't even setting out to be a hero. Yet she is strong and brave and smart and has good taste in comics. I could believe in her as a cop. I could also see why she might doubt her own ability to be a mother. Olson has come up with a great female lead here: likeable, credible and still very much an individual with strengths and flaws to be explored.
Lena's father runs a comic book store and the book is filled with references to all kinds of comics and movies. As usual with Melissa Olson there's a well described dog character, which I take as a plus. The relationships between Lena and her sister and Lena and her husband are complicated and sometimes tense but the love she has for each of them is clear.
The plot is a good one. Olsen manages to broaden a simple missing person case into something much bigger and more dangerous without asking me to suspend disbelief and without making Lena into a passionate avenger who is too stubborn to stay out of harm's way. The twist and turns in the plot kept me guessing.
The best thing about the book is characters in it. That's a rare thing in a PI series. I hope Melissa Olsen can pull herself away from her urban fantasies (much as I love them) long enough to produce more Lena Dane novels.