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Disappearing Nightly by Laura ResnickOriginal edition1 star

Buy from Barnes & NobleBuy from IndieBoundBuy from PowellsRarely in fantasy has such a swell title been squandered on such a pitiful little book. Someone, or something, is causing the lovely assistants of Manhattan stage magicians to disappear for real, and right in the middle of their act, too! This is cause for great concern for Esther Diamond, a struggling off-Broadway actress understudying in a magic-themed play whose leading lady has just gone poof. As her understudy, Esther fears she’ll be next, a fear rather bluntly reinforced by cryptic warnings left her by one Dr. Maximillian Zadok. The hot police detective assigned to the case doesn’t seem to take the whole thing seriously, but Esther certainly does, and teams up with Zadok to unravel the mystery.

Okay, okay, not a bad premise, and the book even gets off to a heartbreakingly promising start. But, as they say on the stage, it’s all in the performance. Laura (daughter of Mike) Resnick has already made her mark as a writer of romances under the name Laura Leone, as well as traditional fantasy under her own name, with such titles as In Legend Born and The Destroyer Goddess. These are, to date, unread by me, and are now likely to remain so for the foreseeable future. 

Here, Resnick checks in with the accommodating folks at Herlequin Luna (with a later re-release from DAW) and hops aboard the crowded urban fantasy bandwagon. With Disappearing Nightly, she tries to concoct a story in the classic screwball comedy vein of old Kate Hepburn/Cary Grant movies. The end result, I’m sorry to say, is markedly less funny than any fifty randomly-chosen clips you’ll find on TikTok. We’re not talking sophisticated wit here. This is the kind of stuff you see in a Fox sitcom that gets cancelled before all episodes of its first season even have a chance to air. Disappearing Nightly reads like the novelization of just such a sitcom pilot, perhaps launched as the vehicle for an actress popular for her work on an earlier, funnier show. Parhaps a younger Jenna Elfman or Christina Applegate for Esther? Forget Amy Poehler; her agent would know better than to waste her time showing her the script. 

Look, everybody knows critics don’t know nothin’. So I’ll give you a little experiment you can perform in your spare time to see if this is the kind of book you’d enjoy. If there is a large chain bookstore near you — the sort that lets you make yourself at home in comfy easy chairs while sipping overpriced lattes — drop by of an evening and read Disappearing Nightly through to the end of chapter two, which is where Esther meets Zadok for the first time. Now, what’s happened so far is, being a mage himself, Zadok has just transmuted (which is Resnick’s fantasy synonym-of-choice for “teleported”) into the middle of Esther’s dressing room backstage. Esther is both shocked by his sudden arrival, and, because he’s been leaving her mysterious unsigned notes warning her of impending doom, she also thinks he’s the creepy guy responsible for the disappearances. So she grabs — wait for it — her hair dryer and points it at him and shouts, “Freeze!” He responds to this aggression by dropping to his knees and shouting “Aaaargh!”

Now, if you thought that was funny, then, by all means, transmute yourself to the cash register and take this book home with you. (And the hell of it is, that scene might well have been funny had Kate Hepburn done it to Cary Grant.) If, on the other hand, it caused you to roll your eyes and start listing off the names of assorted cheeses, like John Cleese in that Monty Python sketch, then just put the book down. I was going to say, “Put the book down and back away slowly.” But after thinking about it, I decided it wasn’t that funny.

Followed by Doppelgangster.