Vivian Shaw's Strange Practice has most everything I want in an urban fantasy novel. When I read urban fantasies, I want the protagonist to protag, the villain to seem villainous, the city to permeate the plot, and the climax to clamato. Strange Practice hits all of those notes with the possible exception of the clamato, but only because my beverage jokes are not meant to be taken sincerely. The novel delivers.
Dr. Greta Helsing, despite her vampire-hunting last name, is a doctor for the supernatural denizens of modern London. Greta, a demon named Fastitocolon, two 19th century vampires of pre-Dracula fame named Sir Varney and Lord Ruthven, and another human, Cranswell, team up to solve a series of murders. A killer with a poisoned cross-shaped blade is stabbing people and leaving rosaries in their mouths. The heroes' investigation endangers them, and Dr. Helsing has to use both her medical skills and her wits to unearth a pretty memorable conspiracy. I won't say much more for fear of spoilers, but London's history plays into the makeup of the ultimate villain as well as its lair in a pretty original way.
The author writes a convincing doctor (to my eyes, anyway, me not being one). Greta caring for the undead makes for a wealth of plausible yet original scenes such as patching together mummies and assisting ghoul infants in addition to her injured friends. Greta manages to get herself into and out of scrapes in plausible ways. This includes a nice bit of character-driven plot in which she sensibly doesn't set out to risk herself but turns out to be critical to the mission anyway.
The secondary protagonists are well-fleshed-out, and the villains aren't bad, though I found them more interesting as creations rather than characters. (Points for world-building, not for emotional punch.) Similarly, I would probably enjoy Ruthven and Varney more if I read their original source material that I've never quite gotten around to. I was never burning to finish this book the way I would for a book I'd give 5 stars, but it did hold my interest. The climax and denoument felt satisfying, which I almost always look for in the first novel of a series, and I'm interested in the sequel. So I'm going to give this 4 stars, bumped up to 4.5 because this genre is kind of my raison d'etre on Booklikes. If you like urban fantasy but don't want to hear yet another story about American teenage vampires claiming their birthright or something, Strange Practice may be your cup of clamato. (Yeah, I know tea would be more appropriate for a novel set in London, but come on, Brits have to drink other stuff, too.)