Seven years ago, urban fantasy audiences were introduced to a tough female Volkswagen mechanic who turned into a coyote from time to time -- and Tri-City fans of the genre were treated to supernatural drama set in their own backyards.
Fans of the series by best-selling Tri-City author Patricia Briggs have watched main character Mercedes Thompson, known as Mercy, tangle with werewolves, vampires, witches, fairies and a tentacled river monster against a Mid-Columbia backdrop. She did all that while also navigating the complexities of a romantic relationship with the Tri-City werewolf pack leader.
Now, as Frost Burned -- the seventh novel in the series -- debuts Tuesday, longtime fans are returned to the werewolf politics of the first novel, Moon Called, and the consequences of the world finding out that werewolves aren't just creatures from horror movies.
"In a lot of ways ... this is a tie-up-the-loose-threads novel," Briggs told the Herald. "At some point I let things dangle in Moon Called that had to be pulled forward."
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The novel starts with Mercy engaged in the fairly normal activity of battling throngs of shoppers and snarls of traffic on Black Friday.
"I have to point out that there are scarier things in the world than vampires and werewolves, and Black Friday is one of them," Briggs said.
Things for Mercy quickly escalate from bad to worse within the first several pages when a car accident leads to the revelation that the entire local werewolf pack is missing. Briggs said she tends not to work from an outline, but rather to start with an idea and up the stakes with each new scene.
"Sometimes I just throw Mercy into situations and think, 'What could make this worse?' " Briggs said. "Oh, let's have a car wreck. What could make that worse? She can't reach anyone on the phone."
Because of the way Frost Burned refers back to previous plotlines, she said it's probably not the first book that should be picked up by someone new to the series.
"It's pretty action-packed and things are running from the beginning," she said. "If you're starting the series, I'd probably want to go back and start with Moon Called."
Briggs was emphatic that tying up loose ends isn't synonymous with winding down the series. Her next publication is a book of short stories from the world of the Mercy Thompson series, and then she'll be writing the next novel in the series for publication in about a year, which should be music to the ears of fans who have waited two years since the last Mercy book, River Marked, was published in 2011.
Briggs also writes the parallel Alpha and Omega series, which is set in the same fictional universe as the Mercy Thompson books, but on a slightly earlier timeline. Fair Game, the most recent Alpha and Omega book, was published in March 2012.
She'll be appearing at several local bookstores in coming weeks to sign copies of her books -- after making stops in Seattle, the Portland area, San Diego, Houston, the Chicago area and Fenton, Mo.
Tri-City signings: 6:30 p.m. March 11, Hastings, 1425 George Washington Way, Richland. March 16, The Bookworm stores in Kennewick and Richland. Times to be determined. March 23, Barnes & Noble Booksellers, Columbia Center mall, Kennewick. Time to be determined.