For this Friday’s Indie Review, I was ready for something really fun, so I picked up the urban fantasy thriller, Caller Unknown by Jennifer Brozek. I have to say, this book was Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride from the very start of page one– and I mean that in a very good way.
Karen Wilson is a 9-1-1 operator who who receives a cryptic prank call on her personal cell phone from an unknown number. She tries to shrug it off as another crazy phisher or spoofer, but the caller said that a person’s life, someone named Lamiel, will be at risk. When Karen manages to find both the person and the place the caller referenced with a simple internet search, she decides that she’ll at least go check it out. The worst thing that happens is she gets laughed out of town by this Lamiel or her prank caller. However, by the time Karen gets there, her “target,” Lamiel, has already left unexpectedly in response to a mysterious phone call.
With a sudden foreboding that the ambush might be all too real, Karen follows and arrives in time to see the silhouette of a man pushing the woman known as Lamiel off a bridge. Not at all sure what is going on now, but certain the woman will need help, Karen calls for emergency services, but gets the mysterious caller instead. He tells Karen to pull a needle with strange etchings out of the woman’s neck before it kills her.
Karen does so but yells at the man to get off the line, so she can call 9-1-1. Abruptly the 9-1-1 operator she originally tried to dial is on the line. Aware of how bad her involvment in the crime scene looks, since she was seen looking for Lamiel earlier in the evening, Karen tells the officer-in-charge about the original crank call, but not about the second exchange with her mysterious caller or about the needle. She can’t think of anyway to bring it up that won’t make her sound absolutely crazy.
After this event, Karen is haphazardly dragged into a fight where rituals, spells, gargoyles and secret orders all still exist, but she’s not sure where she fits in to the picture– or even which side might be trying to make the world better versus who’s just playing dirty.
I had a hoot with this read; the characters are fun, the plot line is engaging, and there are enough twists and turns for Karen to navigate in the story that I felt like the author did a great job of not telegraphing the ending. Ending up with a predictable plot can be an incredibly easy trap to fall into with urban fantasy, especially in a story where one of the main plot threads is a good-vs-evil throw-down. I am incredibly happy to report that did not happen here.
The book is on the short side, only pulling in at about 144 pages on my e-reader, but that makes it incredibly easy to read in one sitting, and great for travelling or times when you only have a few hours to fill. It also means this book has virtually no fluff or filler. It is all high-octane story craft. If something doesn’t move the plot forward or develop the characters, it doesn’t appear in this book. Making a story this lean is something that’s difficult to do well, without sacrificing character development or flavor. I truly admire how superbly this author pulled it off.
A highly enjoyed and highly recommended read.