Two Serpents Rise, the second book in Max Gladstone's Craft Sequence, can be read independently of the other books, although I'm glad I read this after the first, Three Parts Dead. Both are great, but I liked Two Serpents Rise a wee bit more. I found the characters a little more developed and the plot a little more complex than Three Parts Dead. And I'm in awe of the way Gladstone melds Hardboiled Detective with Baroque Urban Fantasy, making a delicious mix of razor-sharp banter, knight-in-tarnished-armor thriller, poetic description, weird magic, and ornate worldbuilding.
In a world as modern as our own, but where magic and mysticism replace scientific technology, a few decades after a war where the gods were overthrown by necromantic sorcerers, the metropolis of Dresediel Lex is a mash-up of Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles and the Aztec city of Tenochtitlan. Caleb Altemoc is a gambler and a risk manager for Red King Consolidated, a company that provides clean water to the otherwise parched city. When Caleb investigates a demonic contamination of the city's water supply, he runs into the mysterious, beautiful Mal, and his pursuit of her gets him entangled in a complicated plot that threatens to reignite the God Wars and awaken the old gods who hunger for blood and souls.
Caleb is a terrific protagonist, a cynical, broken man who nonetheless strives to do good, fighting superstition with reason, suspicion with trust, conflict with compromise, and violence with wits. When the world around him is going to hell (sometimes literally), he does what he can to rise above it and find a way to save as many people as he can.
If you're a fan of gritty detective stories or outlandish, bizarre fantasy, I highly recommend Two Serpents Rise and the other novels in the Craft Sequence.