Tricks of the Trade (Paranormal Scene Investigations Series #3)

Tricks of the Trade (Paranormal Scene Investigations Series #3)

4.6 10
by Laura Anne Gilman

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When magic goes wrong, who are you going to call?

The name's Torres, Bonnie Torres, and I'm a paranormal scene investigator—rooting out the truth about crimes of magic. It's dangerous and boring and scary and fascinating. Though not everyone in the Cosa Nostradamus is happy we're around, which can make


When magic goes wrong, who are you going to call?

The name's Torres, Bonnie Torres, and I'm a paranormal scene investigator—rooting out the truth about crimes of magic. It's dangerous and boring and scary and fascinating. Though not everyone in the Cosa Nostradamus is happy we're around, which can make things…tricky.

Working two cases—looking into a murder for the NYPD, and a rich man's break-in—should be well within our abilities. But when things start getting weird in the Electric Apple, Private Unaffiliated Paranormal Investigations is stretched to the limits, trying to keep one step ahead and out of trouble. Add in rumors of a powerful creature gunning for us and it's not just our rep on the line this time—if we don't solve this case, everyone will suffer.

Fortunately, around here, when the going gets weird, the weird hire us.…

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Gilman's deft plotting and first-class characters complement her agile blend of science and spell craft, and readers will love the Mythbusters-style fun of smart, sassy people solving mysteries through experimentation, failure, and blowing stuff up."

-Publishers Weekly on Hard Magic, starred review

"Features fast-paced action, wisecracking dialogue, and a pair of strong, appealing heroes."

-Library Journal on Curse the Dark

"An intelligent and utterly gripping fantasy thriller, by far the best of the Retrievers series to date."

-Publishers Weekly on Free Fall, starred review

Product Details

Publication date:
Paranormal Scene Investigations Series , #3
Edition description:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.38(w) x 8.32(h) x 0.74(d)

Read an Excerpt

Every Talent in the city probably felt it when The Roblin arrived, but most of them didn't know what it was, not even after everything was done and dusted. There was maybe a sense of unease, a niggling in the back of their minds, not like they'd forgotten something but that something was happening that they should know about, that was going to affect them.

And then it was gone: fading into the still-chilly predawn air, lost in the quiet bustle of hospital workers changing shifts, police cars idling on street corners, shortorder cooks strapping on fresh aprons and firing up grease-skimmed griddles. Those particularly sensitive to bad vibes, Null and Talent alike, shifted restlessly in their sleep, or woke feeling particularly anxious or alert, but there was nothing to tell them why they felt that way, and most of them forgot it after the first cup of coffee, and the first crisis of the day.

But because it was forgotten didn't mean it was gone.

The malaise started downtown, and spread, like fingers of a hand stretching out to cover all five boroughs of New York City. Barely touching anything, yet sensing, feeling, absorbing the pulse of the city, finding the weak points, the delicate spots, the danger zones. And, finding them, narrowing in for the kill.

"All right, people, settle down."

The noise level hadn't been high to begin with, but the restless movements stilled almost immediately. It was Wednesday, and we were all gathered in the main conference room in the PUPI offices, which were on the seventh floor of a nondescript seven-story brick building uptown in Harlem. Outside I could hear the muffled sounds of traffic, trucks and buses and cabbies in their usual dance, sirens cutting in and out like a soprano having diva-fits in a cast of baritones. Seven of us: me, and Sharon, Pietr, Nifty, Nick, and our newest hire, Lou. And Benjamin Venec, our boss.

"After the past few weeks I had planned on spending time working on your defensive work, but—"

"We've got a job? Do I get to—?"

Venec scowled at the interruption. "No."

Nifty was getting itchy. Literally: he'd had a run-in with a molting Istiachi two weeks ago, which was unfortunate, since molting made them both pissy and toxic. He'd ended up with a bad rash—startlingly bright green against his black skin—that he was under strict orders not to scratch. He was also stuck on office duty until it healed, while we'd been out on a case, and that was really making his skin itch.

The first time I'd ever seen Nifty during our group interview/audition for this job, I'd thought "well-dressed jock" and assumed he was all bulk and no brain. Working with him for the past year had proved that assumption wrong: he was smart and surprisingly sophisticated. But right now, he was more like a petulant ten-year-old than a pro-quality athlete turned paranormal P.I.

"Why can't I…" he started to ask again, his voice not quite whining, but getting awfully close.

"Because you're still contagious," Venec said, not even looking at him. "That's fine here, where we can protect ourselves, but letting you out among Nulls, who'd freak if they started coming over in sparkling green itches? Forget about it, Lawrence."

I hid a smile. Venec would not appreciate knowing how very much more like a parent than a boss he sounded, right then. Benjamin Venec was many, many things: smart, savvy, fierce, an utter bastard when it suited him, and hotter than hell, with dark eyes that I still couldn't identify the color of, because every time I looked into them I got seriously distracted, but he was absolutely not daddy material.

Nifty didn't have the same physical—or emotional—reaction I did to Benjamin Venec, but Venec was the Big Dog, so Nifty subsided, spreading his hands—plate-size, and equally capable of pulling a pigskin out of the air or dragging a suspect to the ground—flat on the conference room table to keep from rubbing at his arms or legs. Since I'd been right behind him when the Istiachi lifted its tail and sprayed, I was sympathetic. That could have been me, if my coworker hadn't massed twice my weight, and protected me from the attack.

It was funny, really. When I'd agreed to work for the mad Talent combination of Ian Stosser and Benjamin Venec, I never thought it would result in me facing down a foot-long land-squid and ducking toxic urine in order to get the skinny on a bank robbery.

J, my mentor, says I need to read more noir mysteries, to expand my expectations about this job. J still isn't really 100% behind my career choice, but he tries to be supportive. I'm not sure Dashiell Hammett wrote about Istiachi, myself. More Lovecraft's style. The land-squid were fatae, technically full and valued members of the Cosa Nostradamus, but you didn't invite them to Gathers, and certainly never to lunch.

"Besides," Venec went on. "I need you here to work on those files with Lou."

There was a faint snicker that sounded like it came from down the table, which meant Nick, which wasn't a surprise. Boy still didn't have an inch of self-preservation in him. Nifty glared around the table, and went back to sulking. Lou merely nodded her head, accepting both the assignment and the partnering.

Nick was one of the Original Five. He looked like your basic geek…and okay, he was. But he had skills nobody else could match. Lou was new to our pack—she'd come on board two months ago, when the cases started coming faster and Stosser decided we needed more hands. The oldest of us by a decade, she had actual experience, having worked for a Null P.I.'s office before, but the first time she went out into the field as an active PUPI.

Well. It had been spectacular, and not in a good way. Lou's control was fabulous under training conditions, and not so much in the real world. Now she worked the back office, making sure the research records were in order, the supplies properly kept, and we're never caught without proper background files. At that, she's a whiz. We didn't know how badly we needed an office manager until we had one in place.

Venec waited to see if anyone was going to make any other comments. We weren't. "After the backlog last week—" The Big Dog held up a hand to keep anyone from trying to explain or protest. "Yah, I know. That job was a goddamned disaster, and we were all stressed. But not a single one of you filed paperwork all case, and then every damn one of you dumped it on Lou's desk Thursday afternoon. Tacky, people. She's already gone through her initiation."

"Ast mem!" Lou muttered, leaning back in her chair, and I tried not to crack a grin. My father might not have taught me much Spanish before handing me over to J, but I'd learned enough over the years to know what she'd said—and even if I hadn't understood the particular slang, her tone made it clear. The rest of my cohorts—middle-class whitebread to the core, even Nifty—were clueless.

"As I was saying, after the backlog of last week, I had wanted you all to do some skill-work—Sharon, you still need to work on your binding spells, and Pietr and Bonnie are due for a refresher course in ducking a tail."

How someone who could disappear as thoroughly as Pietr when he was stressed couldn't manage to shake a tail still amazed me. But it was true: for a ghost-boy, he stuck out like a sore thumb when he was focused on following someone.

My problem, according to Venec, was my hair.

I reached up and touched my short blond curls selfconsciously. I'd thought the blue streaks were kicky. Venec had informed me, in no uncertain terms, that they were distracting, and unprofessional. And, apparently, they made me easy to pick out of a crowd.

We weren't supposed to stand out; we were supposed to blend in, the better to find out things people didn't want known. Or, as he put it, "This isn't a peacock show, damn it."

He was right, okay, he was absolutely right. But I'd spent most of my life standing out, gleefully and with encouragement from my mentor, and this.

This drabbing down to dullness was hard.

Even as I let that thought slip, there was a mental touch of something, not quite sympathy—never sympathy—but a rough buck-up sort of pushback, and I sighed. Of course Venec would know I was indulging in self-pity.

There was no such thing as telepathy, beyond the ping—a quick burst of information that was more visual than heard or seen—but about eight months ago we'd discovered that Venec and I could pick up each other's emotions, even thoughts.

Worse and weirder than that: our current kept getting tangled together without our willing it, something that was supposedly impossible. Magic didn't work that way.

The old texts, what Venec had been able to find, called it the Merge. It was rare, annoying, and not something either of us had wanted: We still didn't want it. But, like Nifty's rash, we had to deal with it and not let it interfere with the job.

I, at least, was dealing with it by total denial. So far, so good.

"You had wanted to give us a break?" Sharon asked, her coffee mug—a robin's-egg-blue color that matched her blond perfection, well, perfectly—halfway to her lips. "Implying that you're not going to.or not able to?"

Sharon liked to have things nailed down definite-like, the better to tear them apart. She was probably our best in-field operative. That scalpel-sharp brain, matched to the fact that she looked like a 1940s movie goddess, cool and lush at the same time, made her a killer investigator: people got distracted, and then she zoomed in without mercy, finding exactly what they were trying to hide.

The fact that she had the ability to sense when they were actively lying was just icing on that cake.

"Not able to," Nifty said. As usual, he and Sharon were jockeying for lead dog spot, having to prove they were smarter, sharper, more alpha than the other. Then he ruined the superior attitude by scratching at his arm, making a face like a box turtle's, all scrunched up and sour. We all glared at him, and he stopped, shamefaced.

The rash spread by contact. Venec might be able to treat the infection, but I didn't want to be stuck under house arrest, too, because Nifty couldn't let it heal. If he wasn't careful, we were going to make him stay home.

"Not able to," Venec agreed, carefully not seeing Nifty's lapse so he didn't have to yell at him again. "Ian handed over two files this morning."

"Two?" I was surprised, yeah. It wasn't uncommon for us to have two jobs going, these days; the Council overall might still not officially recognize us, but word had gotten out that they'd use us in need, and so the ordinary members of the Cosa Nostradamus were calling. But two coming in on the same day? That meant Nifty's desk assignment wasn't make-work; there wasn't time or manpower to do that, even with Lou around.

"And where is Master Stosser, anyway?" Nick looked around like the boss might suddenly pop out of the woodwork—and he might, actually.

Ian Stosser might be the genius behind PUPI, but lately he'd left more and more of the day-to-day stuff to his partner. Since Venec was better at that anyway I hadn't thought much about it. But Nick was right; Ian had been least-in-sight, recently.

"I'll worry about Ian," Venec said, his voice more of a growl than usual, reminding me why we called him Big Dog, other than the obvious PUPI pun. "You focus on what we pay you for. Two jobs. First's a break-in, up in Fieldston. Sharon, you and Nick take that one." He slid a plain brown folder across the table, and Sharon took it.

Ah, paperwork. Magic—current, in the modern parlance—runs in every human, but only a very small percentage of humans can actually manipulate it. They—we—are called Talent, and the ones who can't use it are, rather condescendingly, called Nulls. Magic makes a lot of things easier, yeah. One of the prices we pay for Talent, though, is that we don't interact well with things that run on current's kissing cousin, electricity. You find a Talent who carries a cell phone or a PDA, and doesn't have to replace it every other month, and I'll show you a Talent who can't use current worth a damn.

Okay, unfair. But even those of us who don't use current every day found anything more sophisticated than a debit card got fritzed pretty fast. I hadn't been able to carry an MP3 player since I was fourteen.

I've spent most of my life in openly Talented society, but some days I watch people using netbooks or smartphones, while we have to juggle paper and pen and memory, and I wonder if we really got the better part of the deal, after all.

"Where the hell is Fieldston?" Sharon asked, scanning the paperwork. "I swear, if we have to lug out to Long Island again."

"End of the 1 line, up in the Bronx," Nifty told her, capping the one-upmanship for the moment.

"Oh. Okay." She wasn't happy about heading all the way out there, but apparently so long as it didn't involve having to leave the city, she could deal with it. Shar was our only born-and-bred New Yorker—I didn't count, having spent most of my teens in Boston—and sometimes that just shone through.

"Client's a Null, he owns a house up there, it got tossed last night and he thinks it was a Retriever. No idea why he thinks that, but if it is…"

I couldn't stop myself from interrupting. "Venec, when was the last time someone actually pinned anything on an active Retriever?"

Retrievers were the cat burglars of the Cosa Nostradamus, Talent who naturally went invisible, like Pietr, only they controlled it, used it to get away with everything short of murder. If this guy'd been burgled by a Retriever, odds were that even if we could prove it, nobody would ever get the stuff back.

Meet the Author

Laura Anne Gilman is the author of the popular Cosa Nostradamus books for Luna (the “Retrievers” and “Paranormal Scene Investigations” urban fantasy series), and the Nebula award-nominated The Vineart War trilogy from Pocket, as well as the YA trilogy GRAIL QUEST for Harper. Her first story collection is DRAGON VIRUS and she continues to write and sell short fiction in a variety of genres. Follow her at @LAGilman or

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Tricks of the Trade 4.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 11 reviews.
BuriedUnderBooks More than 1 year ago
Who keeps the Cosa Nostradamus on the up-and-up, so to speak, when it comes to criminal events? Bonnie Torres and her colleagues in an elite crime-fighting unit, the PUPI—Private, Unaffiliated Paranormal Investigations—are dedicated to looking for the truth in magic-related crimes. Created by Ian Stosser and his partner, Ben Venec, PUPI is all about investigating crimes involving the Cosa Nostradamus, the community of magical beings, both human Talent and fatae, supernatural creatures. Talent and fatae coexist fairly peacably with each other and with Nulls, those unfortunate humans who have no magical abilitites, but crimes do occur and our little band of Talent is frequently called in to find out the facts, the who, where, why and how. Then it’s up to the Cosa to deal with those facts. Two investigations are on deck at the moment—a dead body and a theft. The dead body happens to be very non-human but clearly a murder and the theft is of a pair of seemingly innocuous articles after a home break-in that resulted in astonishing damage. Why did someone want the creature dead and what happened to the pocket watch and glass dagger? To make things even more difficult, why is a mischievous imp called the Roblin stalking Bonnie? I have struggled to write this review but not for the usual “try to find something nice to say” reason. No, my problem has been that there is so much I loved about this book that I could easily get carried away and tell too much. What I will say is that I’m in awe of Ms. Gilman for her inventive mind, from all the different species of fatae to the properties and uses of current to the Merge going on between Bonnie and Ben to the vexations caused by a playful imp who brings new meaning to Murphy’s Law to…well, you get the picture. After all, how can you resist a well-to-do Great Worm known as Madame who appreciates roses or a Wookie-like bodyguard named Bobo? Suffice it to say, I love this book for its humor, the mysteries, the hint of romance, the sheer creativity. I’ve known of Ms. Gilman‘s work for years—she was quite popular in my bookstore—but this is the first time I’ve tried her and I can hardly wait to go back and start at the beginning of this wonderful series and the Retrievers series set in the same universe.
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Bluedragon30 More than 1 year ago
Book 3 in Lara Anne Gilman's Paranormal Scene Investigations brought me back into the series which began with Hard Magic and Pack of Lies, continuing this series with a convoluted mystery, lots of magic, a little bit of romance, and enough twists and turns to keep me up reading to finish on a work-night! I am usually less than keen on YA paranormal, simply because I find many of the plots to be a bit less-developed that I like. Ms. Gilman has done an excellent job of tying up the immediate mystery in each book in this series, while leaving enough unanswered questions about the general world and its characters to earn a permanent spot on my auto-buy list.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Sir_Tim More than 1 year ago
Ms. Gilman continues to weave an intriguing tale in the Cosa Nostradamus Universe. The PUPIs continue to grow as their missions become more dangerous. There's a lot of action, a dab of romance, and danger for Bonnie Torres, PUPI extrordinaire! Definitely worth the read!
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rhonda1111RL More than 1 year ago
This is the third book in the Paranormal Scene Investigations. The first one I have read but not the last one. They mention other cases in this story which I assume is in the other two books. Their is another series of books called Retrievers and they mention Wren and we meet her in this book. I want to read at least one of that series too. Bonnie Torres is a talent in fact all the investigators are talent. Bonnie and one of her bosses are fighting what they call merge. Their talent is drawn together and wants them to get together and have offspring. It is rare and they are finding more all the time. They have walls around them in their minds so they don't keep getting what the other is doing or feeling most of the time. Bonnie likes guys and girls and wants uncomplicated relations. In fact her and Piers sleep together on casual basis. Getting involved with the boss is not what she wants or him either. They call the two Bosses Top Dogs and they all are pups. They are like P.I. firm that works to find facts about talent so they can be held accountable. One case is from a null a human nontalent and that he thinks a talent broke in his house to damage two rooms and take a watch and crystal knife. The other case is a floater that NYC cops called them in to figure out. The dead body is not human and in fact they are not sure what he is at first. They have refined their talents with practice on how they can help find out more from the evidence using their skills together or alone. The interactions of the Pups and Top Dogs I really like the characters and how involved they are and what we learn about them and their worlds. The cases are solved and their are a few other problems that come up. But it is their working so well and it comes across to each other. I liked the story. I was given this ebook in exchange for honest review. went and bought the others plus 5 more books of hers