Bad Mojo by Shane Berryhill is an urban fantasy novel which exists halfway between The Southern Vampire Mysteries and the kind of violent adult content HBO should have gone for with True Blood. It also takes place in Chattanooga, TN, former home of my wife, so I will make no secret of the fact I'll be biased toward it. The book captures all of the things I disliked about that city and adds monsters, so what's not to like?
The book follows the adventures of Ashley Owens, a former United States Army officer who was affected with lycanthropy in Afghanistan. The book plays very coy with what kind it is, specifically, but we get a real sense of how it impacts both his behavior as well as attitude. Forced out of the military and into supernatural organized crime, he's since cleaned himself up and now works for a Voodoo sorceress named Zora Banks.
Despite it being the Zora Banks seires, Bad Mojo is entirely Ashley's book. He's a fascinating character to get inside the head of, even if he's not a particularly likable person. Having grown up in the South, I've met plenty of jackasses like Ashley and make no mistake--he is a jackass.
While professing (to himself) to be desperately in love with Zora, he spends much of the book getting into the pants of half the female cast. He's just enough mixture of dangerous, jerkass, and swagger I can buy it. It helps most of the women aren't looking for anything more than Ashley is offering, either. You wouldn't want to be friends with Ashley, though, as his ostensible best friend finds out when the former sleeps with the latter's fairy wife.
Like so many other urban fantasy protagonists, Ashley is basically a present-day urban mercenary doing whatever jobs he's paid to do for clients who can shell out his fees. He's quite not a hit man but he's sure as hell not afraid to drop bodies in the course of his jobs either.
In this book, an evangelical Congressman and Chattanooga's former mayor hire him to find the former's vampire drug-addicted wife. She's been taken in a kidnapping plot, or so it seems, and they want the problem to go away. Shane manages to create such a sleazy atmosphere, it's clear they wouldn't mind it happening in a rather permanent way but Ashley chooses to interpret it as a rescue mission.
The depiction of urban Tennessee is remarkably true-to-life, even with open supernaturals. There's still the remnant of Southern gentility but it covers up the nasty undercurrent of sleaze, drugs, racism, murder, and Jerry Springer-style antics. The fact Ashley is in love with a black woman is a problem for several of his associates as well as her business, even though she's the best sorceress in town. Conversely, she's part white is probably just as much a problem with the other side of her heritage, though we don't get to see that part from Ashley's perspective.
We get a good sense of Chattanooga's superrnatural underworld in this book, the power players, and who is going to be the main antagonists for the book. I, especially, liked the depiction of vampires this time around. They're descended from the Serpent of Eden and have snake-like qualities that make them different from most of the undead I've seen in fiction. The fact they're the bottom feeders of the supernatural world is also a welcome change from where they're the beautiful elite.
Bad Mojo is a very good book but it's not going to be for everyone, especially those who have any remaining illusions about the Mid-South. Ashley has a bunch of bad qualities and genuine flaws. This makes him interesting, though. The characters are colorful, the world-building excellent, and the plot interesting. About the only part I don't care for is Zora Banks herself, who is as dull as a wet dishtowel. Thankfully, she's only featured in the latter half of the book.