The Emperor Card

Title: The Emperor Card (A Tarot Mystery #5)

Publisher: Electra Enterprises of San Francisco

Author: Bevan Atkinson

Pages: 302pp

Price: $14.95 / $8.99

Alexandra “Xana” Bard lives a relatively quiet life in San Francisco. She reads tarot cards, hangs out with her friends, and solves the odd murder. Her most recent case strikes especially close to home: the body she finds in her own garden is that of her father, a man she had assumed dead for the last nine years. Those responsible for her father’s murder will stop at nothing to claim what they believe to be rightfully theirs. Will her trusted tarot cards lead Xana to the truth, or will they get her killed, too?

I love paranormal mysteries, so I was excited when I came across several volumes of A Tarot Mystery on netgalley. A picked a couple that sounded particularly interesting and downloaded them. Unfortunately, I read them out of order. The books themselves are not numbered, and the book list at the beginning of The Emperor Card is (apparently) in reverse chronological order.

That being said, I had no problem following along and figuring out the relationships of the characters. Atkinson does an admirable job of catching up new readers, and she does so without annoying info dumping; she introduces necessary details in a organic way. For example, I wondered how Xana could afford a nice little house on the coast of San Francisco when she doesn’t seem to have a job (aside from reading tarot cards). As the reader discovers while she is being interrogated by the police, Xana won a hefty sum in a wrongful termination lawsuit; carefully investing that money allows her to live a modest but comfortable life on her own terms.

Xana is a highly appealing character: she is curious, open-minded, determined, and honest. She is also very good at figuring people out; if someone is being dishonest, they can’t hide that from her for long.

Her ability to read people ties in nicely with her ability to read tarot. The cards speak to her, sometimes as a clear voice in her head, sometimes as subtle nudges and hints. They never lead her astray. In the case of her father’s murder, the spread she lays out includes a reversed Emperor card surrounded by multiple sword and wand cards: chaos, accusations, quarreling, ego over heart.

The mystery at the heart of The Emperor Card is engaging, entertaining, and even educational. I think I learn more about oddball occupations, hobbies, and historical events from reading mystery novels than I ever learned in school; in the case of The Emperor Card, gold mining and the Japanese occupation of the Philippines during the Second World War.

I have only a few minor complaints. First is the formatting. There are a number of places in the book where a dashed word appears in the middle of a sentence (e.g., “excit-ed”), as if the word was supposed to wrap between lines, but the formatting changed and the dash was never erased.

The second concerns the character of DeLeon Davies. A middle-aged African-American from Oklahoma, DeLeon is a professional chauffeur; but that’s just a fun job; thanks to conversations with his many clients, he maintains a healthy stock portfolio, which netted him a very nice house in Piedmont and a Stanford education for his son. Around his clients, he talks like a Yale graduate. Around Xana, he reverts to his native Oklahoman accent. It makes for some strange conversations: Xana in near-perfect west coast American, speaking in full sentences and with very few contractions; and DeLeon, whose speech is peppered with contractions and incomplete words, and who addresses Xana as “Miz” through the entire novel. Though their mutual respect for one another is clear, their interactions still created a weird dissonance; I kept hearing “Driving Miss Daisy” jokes in my head.

Despite those two problems, The Emperor Card is a fun mystery. I enjoyed following along as Xana tried to get justice for her father, and so many others who had been wronged. I look forward to reading more of her adventures.

Recommended to fans of Juliet Blackwell, Diane Kelly, Amanda Flowers, Lyn Hamilton, and Elizabeth Peters.

[Rebecca Buchanan is the editor of the Pagan literary ezine, Eternal Haunted Summer. ]