New Orleans homicide detective Cliff St. James and his partner Honey Baybee are back for their third adventure in Ed Kovacs's Burnt Black. The two detectives arrive at a Tulane professor's house to find two naked corpses, presented on an altar in a ritualistic manner. Neither of them is the professor, who's not present--and whose teachings involve occult practices.
More corpses appear in the following days, with victims exhibiting terror at the moment of death but no obvious signs of murder. The case takes on a sinister edge as unexplainable incidents start happening to the detectives. St. James isn't sure if the evil he's fighting is even a sentient being, but he knows it leaves behind very real dead bodies.
The story moves at a brisk pace, and the case keeps readers guessing. Kovacs includes just enough of the supernatural to make it interesting without alienating people who aren't into such elements. There's an X-Files-y, Mulder-and-Scully vibe to St. James and Baybee; he thinks otherworldly forces are possible, while she refuses to believe. Kovacs presents both viewpoints well and leaves some things unexplained so readers can draw their own conclusions. The ending seems rushed, with St. James doing something that seems out of character, but otherwise it's a solid entry in the series. --Elyse Dinh-McCrillis, crime-fiction editor, The Edit Ninja