I got this book out of the library on a whim. I follow Seanan McGuire on Twitter, where she's very entertaining, I've absolutely loved the two Mira Grant books I've read, and that particular day, I needed something that was at least a little light. My local library didn't have any of the earlier books in this series in, nor any of the earlier Toby books, so I picked this up.
It got me through a week where I was largely on trains to or from my mother, and then sitting by while she was in surgery, or in the days after, sitting by her bed while she rested. (The surgery went well, all is good.) I desperately needed something diverting at that very moment, and this book delivered that and more.
Most of all, it was fun, and it made me grin, and the family stuff was thoroughly delightful, the relationship enjoyable, and of course, all the cryptozoology just fascinating. I should also say, I read this book without having read the ones that preceded it, and had no problems.
Alex is the only son in one branch of two families prominent in cryptozoological circles, to the point of intermarriage with cuckoos, and possibly other humanoid species?. He's interested in the reptile variety of hidden monsters, predominantly, working undercover at a zoo in Ohio. He's juggling normal tasks with surveys of the local cryptozoological population and trying to keep a seven-year old girl from sneaking in to spend some time with her fiance, a giant snake.
So when a petrified body shows up, it's right up his alley, not that he can let the police know that. Of course, there are at least three species that could be killing this way, two of which are animals he wouldn't hold responsible (but would still have to stop). The other option is gorgons, one of whom is his assistant, Dee.
Alex also has to juggle family responsibilities and a relationship with a hot Australian big cat keeper that is sort of on the rocks. It's a busy book, in a good way. You feel plopped down in the middle of the life of someone who isn't a lone hero, out on his own, untouched by those around him, except for the woman swooning in his arms. (I've read too much of that recently. This was a welcome change)
Nope, this is a hero who is firmly rooted in his family, with clear priorities to keep them safe. It's a refreshing change. And so much more interesting! How boring it is to have characters who don't really care about everything, no handy buttons to push.No connections, and being able to compartmentalize everything is boring. Caring is so much more intense.
I should mention the pets. Crow is a miniature griffin, the size of a large cat, and with much of the same temperament. It's hard not to want him for your very own immediately. And the Aeslin mice, (Narnia reference?) talking mice with a worshipful reverence for members of the Price family and intense desire for snacks? Amazing. Love them so much.
At its heart, this book is a murder mystery, and the solution satisfying, from both a monster and a human perspective. It's complicated, as such things always are. It also has moments that feel genuinely dangerous.
Overall, if you want a solid urban fantasy mystery with entertaining animals and strong characters, I would highly recommend this book. I'm looking forward to reading the others in the series.