Dead Things by Stephen Blackmoore (DAW, Feb. 5th, 2013)-Eric Carter sees dead things. Well, more accurately, he’s a necromancer, and wherever he goes, the dead unfailingly linger. After a particularly nasty takedown of one evil customer, Carter is tired and ready for a much needed break. He’s not going to get one. He gets a call from an old friend with the news that his sister is dead, and it was murder of the most brutal kind. He hasn’t seen his sister in 15 years, and he’s immediately overtaken by a feeling of failure. Failure that he couldn’t protect her. She’s never had the talent that he and the rest of his family had, a fact that they’ve desperately tried to keep hidden from the magic community.
Santa Muerte, the patron saint of violent death, wants Carter for herself. Evidently, she can’t communicate with any of her followers directly, or even appear to them, but that’s not the case with Carter. She needs someone to carry out her will, an enforcer of sorts. She claims that if he accepts her as his patron saint, she can increase his already strong power tenfold. He’s not too keen on being under her control, but then she claims to know his sister’s killer. Even that won’t make Carter say yes, but she might give him a clue for a favor. Too bad the favor happens to be going up against another powerful LA mage. As Carter digs deeper, eventually seeking help from his ex-girlfriend, Vivian, he realizes he may have to take Santa Muerte up on her offer after all, but at what cost? When the danger hits way too close to home, Carter will risk anything, even his soul.
It’s no secret that The City of the Lost, Stephen Blackmoore’s first novel, is one of my favorite debuts ever, so I had high hopes for Dead Things. I’m not surprised in the least that it not only met, but exceeded, my expectations. Eric Carter is a very powerful mage with a past that haunts him every minute. Seriously, the man carries enough guilt and regret to fill Dodger Stadium. However, this boatload of guilt and regret makes him a force to be reckoned with, because self-loathing tends to lead him into situations with all guns blazing, without much thought for his own safety. He’s a man not afraid to “get things done”, even if it includes some pretty gruesome stuff. Can you imagine a man like this coming after you if you killed his sister (who he already harbors plenty of guilt over), in a most heinous way? You might as well just sit down and will yourself to die, because the man does not stop.
Just as in City of the Lost, Blackmoore infuses Dead Things with a heavy shot of noir poured into a landscape so haunted and full of ghosts it gives new meaning to “I see dead people.” Eric Carter sees them constantly, and although they can be a great help to his work, they’re also always thisclose to devouring him whole, because they are hungry for the living, and want a taste of what it was once like to be alive. It’s scary and tragic, all at the same time, and it’s hard not to feel pity for these lost souls, even as they give you the willies. One of my favorite parts of this book is the introduction of Santa Muerte. If the fact that she’s the patron saint of violent death doesn’t give you the chills, add to that her penchant for appearing to Carter as a skeleton in a mourning veil. She has a wicked sense of humor (heavy on the wicked), and Carter’s trip to the other side to visit her in her Aztec (yep, she’s got quite the lineage) pyramid takes him across a blasted LA made of bone and sinew, rather than concrete and stucco. That scene was especially wonderful, and terrifying. Plenty of action and magic-slinging rounds out this excellent second novel from one of my favorite authors. Chuck Wendig mentions that it’s his favorite book this year, and I can certainly see why. Prepare to see this on a ton of Best of 2013 lists, including mine!
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