You know how they say life is what you make of it? Well, in this book, we learn that death is what you make of it. The Afterlife, more precisely.
If you want to solve crimes of various types, and you have you a Medium who can communicate with the dead through a glass doorknob, think what you could do if you have a volunteer to die and stay in touch, as it were, and could go look for the miscreant in the Afterlife and send you back some answers? Pretty nifty idea, no?
That is exactly what the General, who is himself dying of something or another, thinks when he comes across a young man who can speak with dead people. He found this out when as a kid he touched a glass doorknob in his home and his deceased grandmother spoke with him.
So the General gets this idea that if you could persuade people with a terminal diagnosis who are going to die in a short time anyway to allow them to euthanize them with a specific mission to find and speak to some other dead person, they could solve some serious crimes, right? They give the volunteer a glass doorknob like the one the Medium uses and Bob’s your uncle, or as we say in Sunny Mexico, Roberto es tu tio.
The catch is a lot of philosophical questions as to the actual nature of the afterlife. It seems that it is different for each belief system, so for a Christian, you need a hell or heaven, for a Gnostic, there is the Pleroma, Buddhism has the bardos, Judaism has Sheol, Isam has a hell, etc. So for the volunteer on the ‘mission’, the volunteer has to be of the same faith as the dearly departed we want to contact.
The book stars a female Lt. Colonel who by not shooting a child suicide bomber before he reached her patrol group, got her patrol killed and herself damaged. She wants to commit suicide and has tried a couple of times, before being brought to the General’s special secret unit, where she learns of their activities. A Gnostic serial killer has abducted a school bus of 11 children. His outlawed sect of Gnosticism believes that disgusting acts of sexual depravity and killing will help him achieve gnosis, or the ultimate knowledge, a bit like achieving Nirvana for Buddhists. But in a confrontation, he is killed before telling where he has stashed the kids. And of course, the Iowa’s governor’s daughter is one of the children, so there is even MORE enormous pressure on the authorities to find the kids alive.
Charlie is a gnostic monk who has received a diagnosis of terminal cancer, and it is the lady Colonel’s job to convince him to ‘go terminal’ in order to hunt down Hiller, the serial killer, and get the location of the kids. It has to be another Gnostic believer in order to track down Hiller in Pleroma.
She he is given the doorknob and a lethal injection and off he goes.., where he discovers that Hiller has not achieved gnosis so hopes to be reincarnated for another try.
The story contains all kinds of twists and turns involving the various characters, and some heavy-handed discussion of the morality of killing people so they can go play P.I. in the Afterlife for you, and some suggestion that possibly not all of the volunteers were actually going to die all that soon so were deceived into agreeing to be euthanized.
There is also a lot of philosophical discussion about just what IS the afterlife, or more specifically, the afterdeath, and this is the book that asks the question: Does the afterlife exist solely because people believe in it? What kind of afterlife is there for atheists? If an atheist dies and you need to contact them, how can you send another atheist into the Nothing to find them? One Sikh was being kept on life support until a mission came up for him. His friend said, “Sikhs believe in reincarnation, so what is life support except prison, or slavery? He’s in the box, like the cat. Simultaneously dead and alive.”
Very interesting concept for a book, which has all the indications of being a series.
My unhappinesses with the book? Use of the word ‘anyways‘. It is always ‘anywayS, not just one particular character who talks like this. Maybe it is a regionalism, but I really dislike it. And a couple of grammatical boo-boos. So many authors and their line editors have trouble with direct object pronouns, as in ” He gave it to John and I.” Would you say He gave it to I? No, of course not. Just because you think He gave it to John and me sounds wrong, it IS NOT WRONG!
Tons of graphic violence and a number of chapters of detailed descriptions of torture of children. No, I am sorry. All that detail was NOT integral to the story. You can tell me there is violence, bloody and obscene, and torture of a disgusting nature and I will believe you. I don’t need minute descriptions, thanks very much. After I got the idea of when it would be appearing, I skipped over that part. It is not anything I really needed to know.
Other than that, I enjoyed the book, especially because of its unique take on the afterlife and on crime detection. Yep, nowhere to run, nowhere to hide, not even after death.