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Wednesday 30 January 2019

‘The Alchemist’s Illusion’ by Gigi Pandian

Published by Midnight Ink,
8 January 2019.
ISBN: 978-0-7387-5301-0  (PB)

Zoe Faust, alchemist and herbalist, lives in laid-back Portland, Oregon with her housemate, a gargoyle chef named Dorian. She has a cop boyfriend, Max Liu; their relationship is progressing slowly, at least in part because Zoe is pretty sure he can’t handle the truth about her life - which is much longer than almost anybody realizes. Zoe has long believed that her mentors, Nicolas and Perenelle Flamel, are dead. So she is totally gobsmacked to see Nicolas’s portrait in a local art gallery, a portrait which disappears before she can get a really good look at it. Who really painted it?  The purported artist, Logan Magnus, apparently swallowed his own paints to end his life. What is that all about?  And how many other painters have suicided in precisely that way. More than Detective Vega thinks is likely, although many of these deaths are years old. Detective Luciana Vega is Max Liu’s partner in the police department; she is also interested in Tobias Freeman, a recent arrival. Tobias has known Zoe for a lot of years - more than Tobias or Zoe want Vega to know about. So many questions, none of which Zoe or Tobias really want to answer, even if they have an answer.

As Zoe pursues her interest in Phillipe Hayden, the artist who may have painted the portrait of Nicolas, more connections to alchemy and painting emerge. Back in the day, artists mixed their own paints, a process which came awfully close to alchemical transformation. She also confides details of her long life to Max, who is very skeptical. His sister Mina may be more receptive, if Zoe ever gets around to trusting her enough. The longer Zoe lives in Portland, the more difficult it becomes for her to stay isolated; every revelation increases the amount of risk in her life. Zoe has no reason to believe today’s vox populi is any more receptive to alchemy than the people who drove her out of Salem all those years ago.

Pandian has created a story line in Illusion that requires a bit more effort from her, as a writer, to keep the reader involved. Previous books have a definite time frame with which she has to work: Dorian is turning, slowly and inexorably, back into stone. They have to find a cure before he is totally non-living. This goal has been met; the Flamels, if they are still alive (as Zoe thinks) have been in stasis for a very long time; what’s a little longer in the grand scheme of eternal life?  So, the pace is different. This is not necessarily a bad thing; Pandian can devote more of the story to her characters, all of whom are interesting in and of themselves. The reader learns more about some of them in this one book than in the previous three books combined.  This also sets Pandian up for at least one or two more books in the series.  I, for one, consider that a good thing.
Reviewer: P.J. Coldren

Gigi Pandian is the USA Today bestselling author of the Jaya Jones Treasure Hunt mystery series (Artifact, Pirate Vishnu, and Quicksand) and the Accidental Alchemist mysteries (The Accidental Alchemist and The Masquerading Magician). Gigi’s debut mystery novel, Artifact, was awarded a Malice Domestic Grant and named a “Best of 2012” Debut Novel by Suspense Magazine. The follow-up, Pirate Vishnu, was awarded the Left Coast Crime Rose Award, and her short fiction has been shortlisted for Agatha and Macavity awards. Gigi spent her childhood being dragged around the world by her cultural anthropologist parents, and now lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.

P J Coldren has been reading and reviewing mystery fiction for over a quarter of a century. She reads broadly within just about all genres and sub-genres. She was a preliminary judge for the Malice Domestic/St. Martin’s Press Best First Traditional Mystery Novel Contest for at least 25 years. She lives in Northern lower Michigan with one large cat, and 2 fairly small dogs.  She says, ‘I am totally chuffed to be the Fan Guest of Honor at Malice Domestic 2019.  

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