Review: Psychic Undercover (with the Undead)

Ah, vampire romance novels. The cotton candy of the literary world. Even the more substantial ones are so light and fluffy, you could drop them in the ocean and they’d work as a life preserver. (Lynsay Sands, I’m looking at you. I like your stuff, but you need to invest a little more in plot.)

Luckily, Amie Gibbons’ book Psychic Undercover (with the Undead) is more urban fantasy than vampire romance, so thankfully we have plot, we have character, we have a bit of a police procedural, and we have action.

The FBI’s about to find out ghosts and vampires aren’t the only things that go bump in the night…

Singers are a dime a dozen in Nashville, so despite her mama’s urging, psychic Ariana Ryder’s working her way towards a career in law enforcement at the FBI, one tray of fetched coffee at a time, instead. She’s got an extremely handsome boss, a dancing partner among the lab techs, and a solid year as the team rookie under her belt…

Right until the director gives her a big break, working undercover as a singer at a club to investigate why it’s being targeted by a serial killer. This might have worked better if the club didn’t happen to be a vampire nest.

Now, with the vampires’ investigator, Quil, on the case, the sparks are flying and the jurisdictional battle isn’t the only thing heating up as they race to solve the case before the killer strikes again!

Psychic Undercover (With The Undead) (The SDF Paranormal Mysteries Book 1) by [Gibbons, Amie]So, Amie Gibbons is both an author and a lawyer — but please don’t hold that last part against her. Thankfully, unlike other lawyers like John Grisham or Scott Turow, she doesn’t make a point of inflicting her law degree on the readership.

Like most UF, it’s a first person narrator, and Ariana is well defined, and certainly a product of her environment. A Nashville girl with a mother who’s a romance novelist and her father is a former marine and a politician. She’s girly, and as professional as the plot allows … read it, you’ll understand. I especially liked that she has a fear of “being trapped. I get the same reaction when I’m lost or stuck in traffic” … which apparently explains her driving. Heh. Short version, imagine Kristin Chenoweth as our protagonist.

For the record, I have to point out that the description above only spills the plot up to chapter 3. Which I appreciate. I’ve had some problems with other novels that spoil up to half way through the book.

The book has a good sense of pacing, as well as a sense of humor and world building. I like the sense of vampire society, as well as the fact that Gibbons have vampires who are still largely predators by nature. (While this does have a romantic male lead who is a vampire, it’s pointed out more than a few times that he’s very, very different from the rest of the vampire society — even the people he’s friends with or works with). I’d like more elaboration about the way vampires are developed, but that’s for later books, I’m sure.

The portrayal of the feds in the book is far more fluid than I’ve come to expect from the FBI. For anyone who thinks the feds aren’t this thoughtful, creative, or fluid in their thinking … well, that’s because this is a world without professional monster bounty hunters, and where the FBI must actually solve crimes and have a certain flexibility about them. All of the traditional FBI agents (rigid, glorified bureaucrats) have probably been eaten by this point in the timeline. Not to mention that the character arc in the first novel explains that yes, this FBI team is different than most, if only because they have to incorporate care and feeding of their pet psychic into their team. Gibbons takes pains to point out that yes, this is a strange group of Feds to start with. (Also, the NY stereotypes were a little grating after a while).  If you have a problem with the portrayal of the FBI, at least finished up to the end of Chapter 10. It’s self explanatory.

One of my few quibbles with in the book is her superior officer. Not because of he character or his mentality — he’s the most like what one would expect from the FBI in this novel. I even like that he holds his private meetings in the bathroom (not the elevator?), or that he summons if you mention his name too often (why yes, I think he is related to Gibbs). And he will even defend his people against his superiors — the only way they die is if he kills them. Except his name is Grant, and Ariana keeps calling him General… which strikes me as something I wouldn’t want to do in the South to someone I liked. Seriously, you want him shot?

The other quibbles are minor. The narrator uses phrases that are jarring. I presume they’re local. Also, have Spotify handy. There are multiple song references kicking around I’ve never heard of. There is also a reference to “Why don’t they use silver bullets?” — but if Larry Correia has taught me anything, silver wouldn’t rifle properly. But that’s a narrator problem, not an author problem (again, our narrator is a rookie).

All in all, Psychic Undercover (with the Undead) was a solid book one, with a built-in book two, at once creating a continuing plot without anyone feeling cheated by this plot. It is definitely a five star book, without question — especially if you’re looking for something in the female led UR / PNR genre. She’s better than most — I’m looking at you Sookie and Anita. This may lean only slightly more PNR than UR, but it’s serviceable as either. She’s better than Lynsay Sands, as good as Kerrelyn Sparks, and more entertaining than the last five of Sherrilyn Kenyon’s novels.

Click here to get Psychic Undercover (with the Undead).



About Declan Finn

Declan Finn is the author of Honor at Stake, an urban fantasy novel, nominated for Best Horror in the first annual Dragon Awards. He has also written The Pius Trilogy, an attempt to take Dan Brown to the woodshed in his own medium -- soon to be republished by Silver Empire Press. Finn has also written "Codename: Winterborn," an SF espionage thriller, and it's follow-up, "Codename: Winterborn." And "It was Only on Stun!" and "Set To Kill" are murder mysteries at a science fiction convention.
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