I didn't think it was possible, but J.F. Penn has outdone herself with Deviance, the third installment of the London Psychic series. The book is one of the most sensual books I've yet read, but it never once dips into the lewd or even depict graphic sex. The book smolders on the embers of darkness and sensuality.
Jamie Brooke, once Detective Sergeant Jamie Brooke, is now on her own after resigning from the police force at the end of the previous book. Her daughter Polly's death and the phantasmagoria she's endured on her last few cases have been too much. She walked away and into the dull world of keeping tabs on cheating husbands as a private detective. But perhaps her biggest case is solving who she is, where she belongs, which people she feels the greatest connection to and what she values most. Her journey begins as she weaves her way through a celebration of London's deviants at the Cross Bones Cemetery in honor of the Outcast Dead, where she recognizes a waif of a young woman named O, her body beneath her clothing extensive covered in body art of an octopus erotically cloaking her body. Jamie meets an urban shaman named Magda Raven (Morgan Le Fey? Mary Magdalene?), witnesses the sex trade that built London, and the evil others can bring down on those who dare live outside the strict boundaries of polite London society.
The villains in this book are the bright side of the penny with charisma, standing on the moral high ground; the heroes are those labeled deviants who feed the hungry, protect the vulnerable, and have released their pain in the beauty of body art. Look twice. Those we shun because they're not like us may not have buried their secrets of truly deviant childhoods to fester and boil over into greed and gore and the torture of others. Look yet again. The upstanding citizens may not be who they seem.
Blake is here, too, his gloved hands protecting him from his gift as he works his safe and predictable job, walking a slender thread of losing his safety and a freefall into the that which he fears most--himself. There is a bond between Blake and Jamie that pulls him further out of his isolation and towards acceptance of himself. With his help, Jamie is able to risk it all and bring down, for the moment, the evil that threatens the destruction of London's history and macabre beauty.
Throbbing beneath this story is the author's love of London. I've been to London several times and done quite a bit of wandering (OK, I was lost, but it still counts as wandering), only to find myself in places I couldn't understand and was tempted not to fear. But I ran, asked for directions, and retreated to the facade that felt safe but robbed me, and other tourists, of the depths the city holds. Now I want to go back. And when I do, my eyes will be to the skies in search of swarming ravens. And I will follow.