Alex Verus is a mage, a diviner, who owns a shop; `Arcana Emporium' in Camden, London and when the story starts life is going smoothly for him. He is on reasonably good terms with the Council and occasionally working for them, and the work with his cursed apprentice Luna is proceeding quite nicely as well.
Things are about to change though.
It all starts with the discovery of a death magical creature. Although it is unclear how it was killed, it is a worrying sight.
Although Alex doesn't realise it, things slip further downhill when Martin, a new friend of Luna's visits his shop and walks away with the magic Monkey Paw Alex didn't have out on display because he knows the artefact is cursed.
Next a beautiful woman bursts into his shop followed by an assassin Alex is only barely able to fend off. The woman, Meredith, is an enchantress and although Alex is well aware of her seductive powers he has a hard time thinking straight when he is around her.
Through Meredith Alex meets Belthas, a Council mage, who wants his help in discovering who killed the magical creature and where they are now.
Next thing Alex knows he has fallen out with his apprentice, who now prefers Martin's company after Martin has used the monkey paw to find a way to be close to her without hurting himself. Up against old adversaries and with his friend, Arachne, a giant, intelligent, magical and very friendly spider in mortal danger, Alex finds himself in a fight he and those he cares for may well not survive. Alex may well be able to look into the future, knowing who to trust is much harder.
This is the second Alex Verus story I've read this year and I have to say I'm really enjoying them. It is clear to see why these books are endorsed by Jim Butcher; Alex Verus has a lot in common with Butcher's hero Harry Dresden. Both are outsiders and underdogs trying to fight the good fight against the odds and often through means they don't feel good about. And both the Verus and the Dresden series combine humour with tension in a way that really works.
The world Alex Verus inhabits in London is completely recognisable, which makes it easy to accept the supernatural elements in the story. The world Benedict describes is almost exactly the same as the world we live in. In fact, the differences between his London and the city we might visit are so tiny that you could almost believe that the magic can really be found there, if only you looked hard enough.
Although this is very much a supernatural thriller, enough attention is paid to the characters and what makes them tick to create a real interest in their welfare. Although Alex is the hero in these books and at times vulnerable, he has enough of a dark side to make him realistic and interesting. And it is easy to understand what drives Luna; having a curse which means that anyone who comes close to you or, even worse, touches you gets hurt or killed would be enough to make anyone stand-offish and desperate.
As for the other characters, it is hardly ever certain who can be trusted; who is on the side of good and who is just pure evil, something which makes the story fascinating and a real page-turner.
I am having great fun with these books and can't wait for the third one to be published.