Thoughts: Kitty and the Dead Man’s Hand by Carrie Vaughn

Number five of fourteen, hope no one’s getting bored of these!

Spoilery thoughts below.

Let’s start with the title.

I got to the end of the book having no idea what the title referred to. Spoilers, there are no dead men (I mean, people die and they are male, but you wouldn’t be like ‘oho, there’s the Dead Man’) and there are no hands that stick out in particular. I had in my mind that it would be about thievery, but of course I was just misremembering the name of the Hand of Glory. Then I started thinking of emergency braking mechanisms, but of course that’s the dead man’s switch. What I’m getting at is, right now I’ve looked up what a dead man’s hand even is, and it’s a poker hand! Oh, you Americans and your weird names for things. And not just any poker hand, but the hand allegedly held by Wild Bill Hickock, who I only really know about after having read Thomas Berger’s Little Big Man. All the old pioneer heroes seem to be called Bill, I’m sorry.

Anyway, the poker hand thing makes sense, because Kitty is heading to Vegas to get married.


OK this is the point where I have to be an unfun buzzkill. I am not the biggest fan of Kitty and Ben as a pairing. I had my heart set on Cormac, with whom she’s had sort of chemistry from the very beginning. More than that, Kitty and Ben have never really convinced me. In Kitty Takes a Holiday, Ben gets turned into a werewolf and he and Kitty… hit it off, shall we say, in wolf form, which is fine and logically consistent. But she’s always wondering if they just sleep together because of the wolf thing, because she never looked twice at him before that, and I was always quite sure that that was the case. In Kitty and the Silver Bullet it’s just obvious how little they know each other. And just as he kept on being unpleasant about werewolf life in Holiday without realising what he was actually saying, in Dead Man’s Hand Ben has another couple of those moments when I really wished Kitty would let him have it.

Not just the “You’re going to enter a poker tournament on our wedding day?” thing, though her justifying keeping her cool by saying she could either pitch a fit or just accept it made it seem as though she wasn’t really comfortable with it. I mean him taking her for a quick drink after her first live show, and not telling her he’s actually wanting to sit in the hotel bar (there’s a gun convention going on, by the way, with several supernatural bounty hunters in attendance – this is known information) and see if he can see any of his mates from his old non-werewolf life. Where he used to also be a supernatural bounty hunter hobbyist alongside his criminal defence lawyer day job.

That’s just not cool, and Kitty never pulls him up on it after a little grumble, even when he does find his mates and they’re unconscionably rude to Kitty (expressing your desire to shoot someone and pretending they’re not human is pretty unconscionable), and even when he introduces her as his client despite the fact that they’re getting married in a couple of days. I get that he’s not ready to be out of the werewolf closet yet, but he never gets called out on his thoughtless behaviour. Not even “I wish you’d have told me what you wanted to do so I would have had the chance to say no.” Nothing. He just seems to push against her boundaries a lot and it annoys me that she lets him – and she never does the same back. She’s always very considerate of what it’s like to be a new werewolf and gives him plenty of space. She never asks him to do things he would be uncomfortable with.

Honestly, they haven’t even properly talked about what it means for him to have been a supernatural bounty hunter tagalong yet. That’s a conversation that needs to happen at some point. Meeting up with the old gang, I got the feeling he missed it. Sort of understandably – being human is a simpler thing than being a werewolf in human society, and all that time was spent pretending werewolves aren’t really people.

That’s another thing – at one point, the two supernatural bounty hunters with-hearts-of-gold meet Kitty’s parents. Brenda, the femme fatale biker goth chick, comments that werewolves shouldn’t have parents, and the joke is that it makes it harder to shoot a werewolf knowing that she has such a sweet mother. But like, this isn’t a difficult idea. I assume most people who go into supernatural bounty hunting have this crisis at one point or another, when they’re confronted with the fact that essentially, in their worldview of Humans Good, Werewolves Bad, every single werewolf is just a human they failed to save. I wonder how many people drop out at that point, or at the very least become more selective about the contracts they take. After a point, you must just be left with the naturally vicious ones who just like shooting and don’t really care who it is – if it wasn’t werewolves and vampires, it would be other humans. I’m not really going anywhere with this, it’s just a thought.

So now I’ve expressed my disapproval of Kitty and Ben getting married, what else is there? A lot, actually!

Part of why this series works so well for me is that it’s not just about Someone Got Murdered, Oh No. I’m not really a mystery/thriller person, which makes a lot of urban fantasy emphatically not my bag, which in turn is a shame, because I love the idea of the normal and the supernatural rubbing up against each other, masquerade or non-masquerade or post-masquerade, I don’t care. Dead Man’s Hand shows Kitty’s career evolving, the personal side of wedding planning and family, and, my favourite, her exploring the supernatural in a new place. The Kitty Norville books work well in real life for the same reason her radio show works well in-universe – getting a window in how different people live with the supernatural is fascinating. Las Vegas isn’t your ordinary city, so people have adapted in different ways.

The vampire Master casino owner, who runs his city with a very light touch. The magician who incorporates his supernatural duties into his act. The lycanthropes who perform right under the tourists’ noses. It’s all wonderfully imaginative and plausible in just the right ways.

And I’m pretty sure we haven’t seen the last of those lycanthropes…

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