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Reviewed by J. Aislynn d Merricksson for Readers' Favorite
Scott A. Lerner’s Habitat for Human Remains is fifth in the Samuel Roberts series. Roberts is a cynical private practice lawyer with an interesting 'hobby’ of fighting the forces of darkness. It's not a hobby he’s chosen. It just seems to find him. This time it comes in the form of a seemingly lucky break when Avery, a lawyer from a far more prestigious law firm, calls Roberts, wanting him to accept a murder case. Mr Avery represents the family's estate, and says he wants Roberts to handle the murder case to keep things from getting complicated by another lawyer at Avery’s firm handling it. Avery accepts the retainer fee with no balking and no haggling, which makes Roberts wary, though he still takes the case. He agrees to visit Blake's mother, Edna, at the home she and her son had shared. His friend, Bob, ends up joining him for the visit, where they tour the home and attempt to speak to the staff. Only the butler, whom Roberts equates with Lurch, is mute. Mrs May is blind, and Ms Harris is a prickly porcupine who clearly did not like Heather, the deceased, at all. Examination of Blake's rooms, set up like a small apartment, reveal both a trash chute and a dumbwaiter, and though neither seem likely to have allowed access to another assailant, it allowed them escape.
The accused is Blake May, a sufferer of chronic, crippling agoraphobia, which had rendered him unable to even leave his rooms, much less Frost House, the estate in question, in several decades. Blake also suffers from obsessive compulsive disorder. Given that the body was so badly destroyed that identification became impossible, it begs the question of how Blake could have done it. Yes, the remains were found in his rooms, but the average human is not able to reduce a human body to mere scraps without tools and considerable noise, never mind a person suffering from such a severe phobia and obsessive compulsive disorder. It's hard-wired into most sufferers to be scrupulous with cleanliness and/or neatness, making it highly unlikely that Blake is the culprit. Cue the creepy goings-on. What really happened in Frost House that fateful night, and how does it relate to the history of this proud Victorian-era home?
This is an urban fantasy tale that fits right in with The Dresden Files, the Eric Carter series, and the Iron Druid Chronicles. A locked room mystery worthy of Sherlock Holmes, flavoured with the spooky elements of Grimm and The X-Files. I love that Samuel and Bob are very nondescript characters rather than sexy, young (looking) characters. I like that too, mind, but it's nice to see average-looking characters as the main ones. Between the two, they reminded me a lot of the Lone Gunmen conspiracy group from the above-mentioned paranormal drama The X-Files. There is great use of dialogue in the story, and each person has distinct accents and inflections, making them much easier to bring to life in the mind's eye. I loved the sarcastic and cynical interactions and self-assessments Samuel had. He's clearly been through the wringer in the past and has reached the point of a resigned 'que sera, sera'. Lerner had engaging description as well. I loved the compass rose floor. I would so very much love that in my own house. I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and will be digging into the other Samuel Roberts books soon (I hope!).