Review: A Criminal Magic by Lee Kelly

From Goodreads:

THE NIGHT CIRCUS meets THE PEAKY BLINDERS in Lee Kelly’s new crossover fantasy novel.
Magic is powerful, dangerous and addictive – and after passage of the 18th Amendment, it is finally illegal.

First off, whoever does Lee Kelly’s cover design and copy is a genius who knows how to hook a browsing library patron. This book grabbed me like a glue trap. Second, I have a memory like a sieve.  I picked up this author’s first book on an anti-recommendation that proved true, then promptly forgot her name. I didn’t realize that this Lee Kelly was the author of City of Savages (which I loathed with a fiery burning passion) until I was well into this book and wondering if the author had any more.

I still loathe City of Savages. I didn’t loathe A Criminal Magic. I can give it a good solid recommend to fans of urban fantasy in a historical setting. I can’t rave about it, but I admire its dedication to noir tropes, and I enjoyed the overall read.  Magic, gangsters, crime & punishment, dark pasts and broken lives. This has all that and more.

The good: attention to factual detail, lovely words. Occasionally witty dialogue. Every scene evokes its sense of time and place and its atmosphere without feeling overblown.
The bad: characters as exaggerated as carnival caricatures and plot twists as subtle as a slap in the face. And the ANGST.
The ugly: murky motivations, and an obsession with  hammering home the message that humanity sucks that gets in the way of itself. I’m all for characters behaving in flawed ways, but when they never learn and the foreshadowing is so heavyhanded a third of the way into the book that I spend the rest waiting for People To Be Stupid and Things To Fall Apart, then it all slides into Bronte sisters melodrama territory and I start to lose respect for everyone.

So. Overall, I liked it. That is a huge step up from City of Savages. (No, I’m not even linking that review. I ranted. A lot. It’s under the review tab if you must expose yourself to the virtriol.) And so I will read Lee Kelly’s next novel too, because loathe to like is a big step, so I’m willing to try again and see if I can fall in love.

Here’s that gorgeous cover again: