Mark of the Demon is the first in the Kara Gillian series from Diana Rowland. Kara is a small town detective who has just been promoted. She's also a summoner, able to pull demons through from their plane of existence with arcane energy. 3 years ago as a beat cop, she caught sight of traces of the arcane on a victim of the Symbol Man. Ever since she's been curious about it, but the murders stopped shortly after. Now they're starting again and now a detective, Kara can get close to the bodies and see if the arcane is connected to this victim, and possibly all the past ones as well. But it's her first homicide case and she's got a lot of heat on her, from her superiors and from those who don't think she's qualified for the job. FBI agent Ryan Kristoff doesn't make it any easier, constantly on her heels trying to figure out what she knows and how she's figured out so much having never been on the original cases.
But the murders aren't all Kara has to worry about. The same night of the first of the new killings, she some how messed up a summoning. Instead of pulling through a lower level demon to give her advice, she managed to pull through a Demon Lord. Who could kill her with ease. Instead he seduces her, and continues to plague her dreams and thoughts when she needs to focus on the case.
I loved this book. I got hooked very early on and it didn't let go. It's a great mix of police procedural and paranormal. Kara is smart, down to earth, tough, vulnerable, lonely and very likable. She's not described as beautiful, she talks about having to really work to keep herself in shape - and that she doesn't do it enough. She's very real and I love how she tries at once to protect herself, and yet shows her vulnerability as well. Kara's history, a messed up teen who did her share of drugs and got clean, was something I liked as well. She shows she's far from perfect, but she works hard for what she wants now. She knows how to work people, and that things don't always work out as they should.
I couldn't figure out who the bad guy was until the reveal, which I very much enjoyed. It took so many twists, I kept thinking, like Kara (though not always agreeing with her), that I had it figured out when *bang* something else happened and it was all upside down again. It's tightly plotted, tense, very sexy at times, dark, twisted and brilliant. My stomach churned at some of the descriptions of the bodies, not something I normally flinch too much at. The author doesn't pull any punches! I liked the world building, with the small town setting, and how the demon world works. Different levels of demons, different prices to pay for summoning. How honer is everything to them and while they're self serving, they're not really evil.
There is a romantic sub plot running through the book, though you'd be forgiven for thinking it bigger than it actually is with the way things heat up early on, and very fast. But it does remain in the back ground, adding to the book without dominating anything. I loved the balance of that sub plot, the police side, and the way the paranormal blended in as well. They worked very well together to create a story I really struggled to put down. FBI man Kristoff and demon Lord Rhyzkahl were both great secondary characters. Both mysterious and clearly hiding ulterior motives, though obviously very different ones, it was fun and tense watching Kara deal with them both. How she handled them, how they played off her and there was a nice contrast between the two, the human and the very not.
Overall, a really great read! Hard to put down, great characters, particularly Kara who is one of the most down to earth realistic protagonists I think I've read. Tight plot, plenty of surprises, a setting that just added to the overall atmosphere and an intense conclusion all made for a very enjoyable read. Loved it, would highly recommend it and having already read the second book (loved it even more than this), I'm very much looking forward to the third!