It’s hard to write an introductory story for a series. Sure, the characters and setting are still fresh in your mind, but how do you differentiate them from everyone else? How do you sell the story and make people come back for more? More to the case in point, how do you give another supernatural detective a running start when there are so many others out there? Well the easy way is to give him or her unique powers that no one’s ever heard of, but the harder, more rewarding way is to make them a unique character and personality.
Harper Blaine is having a shitty day. She dies in the beginning. Her latest case as a private eye throws her up against a violent thug that leaves her for dead in a service elevator in downtown Seattle. After waking up in the local hospital, the doctor told her that she actually flat-lined for a few minutes, and just when they were ready to zip up the body bag she recovered. Now, unbeknownst to the hospital staff, she can see ghostly images and fog in her peripheral vision. Her doctor sends her to two of his friends, a couple named Mara and Ben, who are experts in near-death experiences and magical theory. Harper just thinks, “That’s nice, but what the hell?” because she has more important cases coming up. Just for the record, she never finds out who killed her. That’s for the sequel, I guess.
There’s a missing college student named Cameron. His mother and sister ask Harper to find the little twerp after he blipped off the radar when he told Sarah’s (his sister) abusive ex-boyfriend to piss off. Problem is the ex-boyfriend is a wealthy real-estate developer that knows how to hide from the public eye. Also, a mysterious Russian client named Sergeyev asks Harper to track down, of all things, a pipe organ from his family estate. It might just be a boring plot thread, but for two-thousand dollars up front, it’s a lucrative boring plot-thread. All while this is going down, Harper’s misty visions are getting worse because, according to Mara and Ben, she’s becoming a Grey-Walker; someone that can traverse our world and the world of the dead.
Now for the pros and cons to the story. I do like the way Richardson balances the multiple PI cases. I’ve read other detective stories with multiple cases, and I understand that an investigator would fill his or her day with them. Those cases pay the bills, and it’s a waste of time to just work on one, and then fill the rest of the day with video games or reading stupid blogs on the internet. Nobody’s paying you by the hour, so might as well make progress. Thing is, for the reader, it can get confusing, especially in those books I’ve read where there feel like fifty cases all competing for attention. The cases, and the people behind them, are also compelling. Cameron’s brush with the supernatural comes to mind, and how it leads to a deeper, darker conspiracy, but I won’t spoil it. Let’s just say it felt like Bart Simpson came in halfway through the story and said, “It could use a vampire or two,” and leave it at that.
Harper is also a compelling character that’s having trouble accepting her new powers. Bear in mind that being a Grey-Walker isn’t as cool as being a full-fledged wizard or other practitioner of magic. That’s because magic in this world isn’t all about the pyrotechnics and Jedi powers. It’s about energy and its subtle manipulations. Grey-Walkers, at least in this installment, can just “walk” from one location to another. It’s not a perfectly safe way to get around. Mara mentions one Grey-walker that didn’t pay attention and stepped right in front of a moving truck when he got back to our world. The moral of that story is to know what you’re doing, but Harper has trouble wrapping her mind around it most of the time. Thing is, when many characters do it, I feel like yelling at them to get their heads out of their asses and do what needs to be done. But here, I can sympathize with Harper for trying to avoid that dark, nebulous world full of ghosts and Ghoulies. Plus she’s making a lot of headway on her own with good old fashioned detective work. She’s no idiot, even if she’s no expert on being half dead, but really who is?
Now the cons. Bear in mind what I said earlier, the pacing slows down in the story after the big supernatural reveal with Cameron. Usually the most intriguing part of a paranormal mystery, namely when the paranormal shows its head, is the slow point to Grey-Walker. It went from being a compelling, thought-provoking mystery, to a bunch of people telling long-winded stories and going, “Ooh, now it’s scary.” Amongst Harper’s friends, the only one that provides any help is Quinton, the hacker/mechanic that helps set up the security systems for Harper. The magic couple, Mara and Ben, mostly wring their hands for the rest of the story, while her potential boyfriend Will gets jilted when Harper’s work gets in the way of their dates. And remember when I said that the cases were nice and concise before? After Cameron’s case turns all spooky and ooky, there are a bunch of new faces that show up for a chapter or two with their own confusing power struggles. I’m not saying it’s too much to handle, but you can separate the book into halves very easily after the reveal. Part one has its own plot lines, and part two is a whole new can of worms.
Speaking of part one and two, it turns out that that pipe organ that Sergeyev asked about is really a conduit of evil energy that could explode and destroy Seattle in the process. Why does Sergeyev want it? To take over the world, of course. Your guess is as good as mine, people.
Bottom line, is I don’t hate this book. I actually enjoyed it ninety percent of the time, but the muddled second half and the WTF climax just soured it for me a little. But just a little. Richardson has something good going here. I like Harper and the weird world that she lives in, and I can see why this book spawned a number of sequels. I felt the same way when I read the first of Butcher’s Dresden Files and now I can’t get enough of the damn things. Harper may not use her Grey powers much, but she’s just getting her feet wet, and so is Richardson. I endorse this book with a satisfied…
Go find it if you want something spooky and smart, and if you’re already a fan, then great. Just don’t spoil the sequels for me.
Listening to: The Midnight
Reading: City of Wolves
Playing: Civilization 6