DEMIURGE-Blood of the Innocent by Michael R. Hagan

The law of averages dictate, with all the baseless predictions and educated guesses made throughout mankind’s recorded existence, some of these will have proven accurate, many others quite the opposite.  There have however  been examples of auguries or predictions which transpired to be uncannily accurate, describing events and unfolding consequences in such detail, the last remaining defense for any skeptic is the classic, vaticinatio post eventum*…. That they were in fact fraudulently created after the incidents described took place.”

This is one of those mashups of detective mystery, paranormal spirit/demon/god story, The DaVinci Code tale, thriller, archeologically-based plot that partners a somewhat loose cannon homicide detective who has some kind of special foresight or insight abilities, with a respected archeologist working in a dig in Iran, against an entity which we are not sure until the end is a demon, a god, THE god, some universal force, or what.  But this entity believes that mankind has ruined everything and the only way to cure the world is by spilling the blood of the innocent.  This entity has fathered a son with a Nigerian virgin teenager, who dies in childbirth.  The child is found to have some kind of crazy special abilities, such as curing ailments, wounds and injuries, and special foreknowledge.

Yeah, see what I mean?

The detective is called to a murder scene where an entire family has been brutally murdered and placed at their dining room table set as if for a party.  Fingerprints reveal the perpetrator to be a resident of a local psychiatric institute.  Also a resident at this institute is a former preacher, who is now apparently in thrall to the entity, and has as his life’s mission to kill the special boy.  The baby born to the teenage mother, who is now 9 years old),  has been placed in an obscure group foster home for his safety.

The archeologist and his team at last uncover a buried room in a cave in Iran which has cuneform symbols all around it making predictions.  And those same strange symbols were found painted in blood at the murder scene.  An attempt to learn their meaning is what brings together the archeologist and the detective.

The idea is that the entity inserted himself into various places and situations during the growth of civilization in order to create the events that were prophesied.   So we bounce around in the book between the archeological dig, the homicide investigation, the growing problem of protecting the boy, and flashbacks to the entity’s efforts throughout the ages.

As one reviewer put it, “Very Dark, very gnostic, very intense.”   And another calls it a horror thriller with pseudo-mystical trappings that the author outlines in a broad-brush introduction of the ancient myths.”   Yeah, that pretty much covers it.

*or Vaticinium ex eventu,   “prophecy from the event”),  a technical theological or historiographical term referring to a prophecy written after the author already had information about the events being “foretold”. The text is written so as to appear that the prophecy had taken place before the event, when in fact it was written after the events supposedly predicted. Vaticinium ex eventu is a form of hindsight bias.

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BRIDE OF THE RAT GOD by Barbara Hambly

Chrysanda Flamande was the sultriest vamp of the silver screen in Hollywood, California, in the year 1923. Then an elderly Chinese gentleman warned her that a trinket she’d worn in her last movie had marked her to be the bride of an ancient devil-god of Manchuria.

A mash-up of the twenties Hollywood movie industry scene, old Chinese mythology, a bunch of made-up fantasy, and a mystery.  Da Shu Ken, the Great Rate of the North, the Kara-Kudai.  Bringer of plague, misfortune, and death.  He is not really part of Chinese folklore.  He is created for this book, so you can forget looking him up.

Ms. Flamande was given a fabulous necklace by her producer, a necklace supposedly from some ancient Chinese dynasty.  It actually belongs to the rat god and whoever wears it he claims as his bride and takes with him into his hell world.  So now he is after Ms. Flamande.  Her widowed sister-in-law who is functioning as personal assistant, and the nice guy doing the filming work together to find out who killed the handsome stunt man.

Lots about Hollywood, and Pekingese  dogs, of which Ms. Flamande has three, and who play a prominent role in the tale.  The further into the book you get, the more preposterous it becomes, losing touch with reality all together, and becoming a horror fantasy paranormal kind of thing.

Not a bad read, not quite a genre type I usually enjoy, but definitely very well done.   Must have been fine….. after, all, I read the whole thing, right?

BEYOND DEATH by Deb McEwan

This is the first in what is or will be a series call The Afterlife.  Doesn’t anybody write a one-off anymore?  I guess not.

Although a lot of people liked this book, some calling it ‘sensational’, I was frankly underwhelmed.  The basic premise is that when you die, you go to a place that isn’t a place while the authorities decide what to do with you.  You are attended by an angel, who keeps complaining about how busy they are, what with a cruise ship having just sunk and all, so your instructions are to hang around and wait until they can get to you.  Oh, yeah, and if you want, you can pop back into your earthly life from time to time to check up on the family and friends, but they can’t see you and try as you might, you can’t really interfere anymore in earthly matters.

First of all, the logic of a lot of the plot didn’t make much sense.  All the angel staff are busy because of a sinking cruise ship?  Talk about First World White People problems.  What about the millions who are dying daily around the world?  Do you mean to tell me that every freaking angel is busy with the over-monied white people on a cruise ship?

It concerns primarily a young woman who just got engaged, takes a taxi home to her own apartment, the taxi driver is busy fiddling on the floor for his phone and gets them into an accident in which they are both killed.   There are a couple of other people who die and I forget how because my mind drifted just a wee bit at that part.  OK, I fell asleep.  All right?  Are you happy now?  So it is all about the lives and secrets of the family and friends of these dead people and how they cope, with these dead people trying to interfere.

Told as a straight chick lit story, minus the dead people, would have made a pretty good chick lit book.  Working it around the Dearly Departed made it a mashup that frankly didn’t work all that well for me.

While it was a pretty good idea for a book, it was merely close but no cigar, as they say in…  well I don’t know where they say that.  I surely can’t imagine a series based on this.

I like my ghosts ghostly and not whining and complaining all the time, and my haints  doing some decent spooking.  This?  Well, no.

 

BENEATH A BLACK MOON by Benjamin Hanstein

beneath-a-black-moonWell, in this fantasy, horror, alternate history, (yeah, alternate history is really a genre, not just something Kellyanne Conway made up), steampunk novel,  there is something for everyone.  Even a sex change.   OK, that was inadvertent,  kind of like that Steve Martin, Lily Tomlin movie.

Our heroine, Mab … and here’s where we try to have our cake and eat it too…. is an actress, off, off, off, off, off Broadway, circa pre 1900s.  The gigs are bad, but then, so is she, actress-wise.   She has a real sleaze for a boyfriend, and in an altercation, he cuts her throat, and she finds herself in a dark, muddy, slimy disgusting place.  Turns out it is hell.  Strangely enough, she meets a guy, seems like a decent sort, and they slog together towards a hill, upon which stands a personage directing who goes where.  (No, really,  is Hell where a girl has to go these days to find a fella?)  While awaiting their turn, a sliver, a string width, of light pierces the blackness and begins to descend from above.  It reaches for the guy, but our gal Mab, being a survivor from the Bowery, etc. snags it and is hurled….   well, I don’t know how all this happens, but anyway she wakes up in the body of the guy.  Turns out the people wielding the light were witches trying to get the guy back.  Oops.  Missed.  They need him to find the killer of the daughter of the guy who invented the machine that created the light that got the dead guy back.  Sounds like the House that Jack built.   So our heroine turns into our hero.

Also, someone has been snatching young children and doing horrible things by way of knives.  Really disgusting.  I tended to skip over those parts.  We do get one scene where we see the guy and he sees angles,  and I told you this was a fantasy, so shut up.

So Mab, inside the guy’s revived body, is forced to go off in search of the killer, and meanwhile we have the search for the serial abductor/killer in the person of a sweet detective who Mab might have the hots for but can’t because she is in a man’s body,  but that large male body comes in handy for a lot of other heavy lifting kind of activities, so it all balances out.

There’s a guy who runs the city, seems like a decent sort, well, except for the monsters living beneath the streets which he unleashes, and turns out he is really a terrible person and a witch and can do all kinds of spells, and turn into things.  If you don’t generally care for fantasy, you will hate this book.  On the other hand, it is quite possible you will keep reading page after page after page,  telling yourself that you are going to abandon it…… right up until you get to the last page ….  where, …. spoiler alert, spoiler alert…… Mab does NOT get her own body back, and we are left thinking that maybe there is another book coming.

And the black moon.  There is this ominous dark presence, planetoid in shape which has risen over the city, and brought death, destruction, monsters, and apparently dirigibles with it,  with sea traffic all but eliminated because of the sea monsters, and disease and pestilence.  There is no explanation for this black moon;  it is just there.

As a reviewer on Goodreads, known only as Ralph,  wrote (lawsy, lawsy, I love it when somebody else does all the research work for me):

According to mystics and occultists, the Dark Satellite (not to be confused with the mysterious 13,000-year-old object in a polar orbit) began to recede from our Earth around 1881. Prior to that date, the object, sometimes described as an “astral moon” or a “dark body perceptible only on a psychical level,” exerted a sort of spiritual influence over humanity, causing spiritual turmoil and crises of the soul.the Dark Satellite is more of a physical manifestation, but still with occult influences, one than not only did not leave the Earth, continuing on its long orbit about the Sun, but which came to loom hugely over the Earth toward the middle of the Nineteenth Century. At the rising of the Black Moon, societies and countries collapsed, the wilderness and rural areas became dominated by Witches and those afflicted with “the Mark,” and the largest cities of the now-fallen United States of America became self-sufficient city-states.

I really enjoyed this book.  It requires more than the usual amount of suspension of disbelief, and it has a mystical and symbolic underlayment to it, which is probably why I couldn’t stop reading it.   I mean, blood, gore,  witches, monsters, people in bodies not their own… what’s not to like?

 

 

MR. HANCOCK’S SIGNATURE by Brian S. Wheeler

Mr. Hancock's SignatureGhost alert!  Ghost alert!

I figured that would get your attention.  I know some of you really like a good ghost story, and this one is a doozy.

You know how so many ghost stories are about evil spirits, and malevolent creatures.  Not really my cup of tea.  I keep asking myself, why does everyone always envision evil in the afterlife?   But this story has just the best collection of ghostly stuff.  You will totally love it.  There is a golem,  and a dead body, and water spirits, and almost best of all, a ghost train!

Allow me to explain.  It begins with the Hancocks, a farming family in the rural environs of a small town in the plains, the flatland, of Illinois.  I’ve been out there.  Boy, is it flat.   Miles of that flatness.  Well, the Hancocks, the last of them, is selling out, lock, stock and barrel, at auction.  Mr. Dunning, a hard-nosed businessman of a farmer,  has spent his time and money gobbling up failed farms and their equipment.  At the Hancock auction, Mr. Dunning offers to buy Hancock’s land, which contains the family cemetery, containing several generations of Hancocks.   The last remaining Hancock agrees, as long as Mr. Dunning maintains the cemetery, and permits no further burials in it.  Dunning agrees to the deal,  all is sold, and Hancock disappears, went wandering, and is never heard from again.

Mr. Hancock had a brother, dearly loved, who was killed in the war.  I am fuzzy as to which war.  His vehicle is blown up, and there are no remains to return to the family, but they do receive a box which contains his medals.  They obtain a black obelisk, which they erect in the center of the cemetery and bury the box in front of it.

Years later, the cemetery forgotten and abandoned, young Ian and friend ride their bikes out to see it, a kind of teen boy rite of passage in the area.  Ian sees the obelisk glowing red, and hears a humming, or thrumming, and he touches the stone and is overcome with a …. I don’t know what.  He is overcome.  Being the son of a military man, the father is stationed elsewhere and Ian soon after has to leave the town.

Fast forward to Ian as an adult, come back to the one town he felt was a little like home, hired to help the town rise out of its doldrums and try to rejuvenate it by attracting businesses to the place.

I know, you are asking about when the ghosts and golem will appear.  I am getting to that.  Have a little patience.  First we have to talk about the abandoned train trestle, which the kids jump from in rites of courage, etc.  Occasionally, the hidden rocks in the river claim a jumper.  And now we come to our first ghosts.  (I know.  You’re saying, “It’s about time, woman.  Get on with it.)  These are wispy spirits of the dead in the river, the accidental deaths, the kids who hit a rock, the suicides, and a few murders.

And these spirits haunt and taunt Minister Jackstone,  a former town drunk, now on the wagon, with a congregation that loves firearms.  He wears a couple of antique guns on his hips because he has made a deal with the river.  He will try to keep their memories alive if they stop haunting him.  At times when they come back, he goes back to the bottle.

And now the ghost train.  I sooooooo loved this ghost train.  It has a conductor with a pocket watch that tracks the hours of the universe, and goes all wonky when earthly activities are awry.   It has imps piling in the coal to make it hotter than hot so that the train can make a specific curve that will bring it into this dimension, where it arrives at the old depot, no longer used as a depot, but is a warehouse.  The night watchman feels the ghost train, sees the oncoming headlight of the huge monster, sees it stop, then leave the station.  What is left behind is a box, coffin sized.  The sheriff is called, and the box is found to contain a body.  It turns out to be the body of the last Hancock.  The local mortician takes it to prepare it for burial, but where to bury him is the question.  Ian feels he should be buried out in the family plot, the sheriff thinks the public cemetery in town should be the place.

There is where the golem enters the picture.  He is a sewn together creature, with a bad leg, and secretly comes to town.  The next morning after the arrival of the body, the body is found on the front steps of the local B&B.  How it got there out of the mortician’s locked basement work area is a mystery.  The body is taken back to the mortuary, and the following day is found in the old movie house, no longer in use.  The following day it is found up top on an abandoned smoke stack.

There is so much more wonderfulness to this story, but really, I hate making a spoiler out of it, so I will stop here, because I have given you the ghosts, the golem and the ghost train as promised.  If you like ghost stories,  paranormal, that kind of thing, do read this.  You won’t be sorry.

OK, field notes.  The golem is not strictly a golem.  A true golem is made of clay, or earth, and a spell put on it by its maker which brings it alive and if must do the bidding of its maker.  It is old Jewish lore.  This figure in our story is more  a self-created Frankensteinish creature, having sewn himself together to accomplish this one mission.

The ghost train comes back two more times.  For a reason.

The book was first published in 2008, and the e-version I have is riddled with editing problems –typos, missing words, homophones,  stuff like that. Enough to be slightly annoying but not enough to make it unreadable.  I would assume that a current version will have been thoroughly cleaned up by now.

I believe there is now a sequel, but for me, this was so perfect in and of itself that stretching it out any further would totally ruin it for me, no sequel for me.

Loved it.  Go read it.

 

 

SHAMAN HEALER HERETIC by M. Terry Green

shamanShamanism, which is some pretty serious stuff and usually connected to various religious beliefs, has been taken over by the genre writers because it has that je ne sais quoi about it …. a bit of the ol’ paranormal, a bit of the quaisi quantum, spirit animal helpers, and ghosts.  Who doesn’t like ghosts, right?   Oh, and in case you were wondering,  my spirit animal is the sloth, because, you know, indolence.

This book is about techno-shamans.   Instead of the peyote and other drugs, drumming, trance dancing, and deep meditation,  these folks are of the modern pip pip pip get to it, hurry it up, I got things to do variety.  They put on a pair of goggles which have been modified with electrical razzle dazzle, and go immediately to the Multiverrse, where they begin in the Middleworld, which is the portal to the Underworld and the Upper World.  Bam, just like that, no waiting for the dream bus to show up.

In this particular world, L.A. doncha know, the Shamans all work through a broker, if you will, who happens to be a Little Person.  think of him as the Shaman Pimp.  The Shamans do not know each other and for some reason not fully explained, it is better that they don’t.

Olivia…call her Livvy…. is visited one night by a kachina — Tawa, the sun kachina to be exact.  Kachinas are Hopi gods, of which there are hundreds.  It is giant, but does not speak.  But it is clear that he wants something.  And what he wants is help.

So here’s what Shamans do in this book.  They go into the Multiverse and rescue people whose souls have gotten stuck there, or whose souls have been stolen.  These folks manifest in the real world as people in a coma.

Well, things stop working in the Multiverse and it turns out that Tiamat, the Sumerian god of chaos and creation is back in town, after millenia of being vanquished by Marduk, the storm god.  Tiamat, for your information, looks like a chicken with paws.  Or a dragon with a beak and hands.  Hard to get a clear description when you are running for your life.

Livvy figures the only way to get rid of Tiamat is to band together with the other Shamans for their combined power.  She also feels she needs Marduk to help them out.  He now resides in Upper World, in a huge castle.  Turns out he is a grumpy old retired man, puttering in his garden, not much like the warrior god of yore.

The plot revolves around a seemingly helpful young man who actually isn’t helpful at all,  and the final battle between the shamans and Tiamat.

It was a fun read, filled with vignettes of her trips into the Multiverse to rescue people, the whole thing made more interesting by the introduction of the two ancient gods, who existed in the time before time.  That is really a long time ago.  Would you like to know some more about the Kachina, and  Tiamat and Marduk?  Of course you would.

tiamatThis is Tiamat.  She is considered the monstrous embodiment of primordial chaos.   Some sources identify her with images of a sea serpent or dragon.   She and her husband Apsu created the first generation of deities.  In Mesopotamian Religion (Sumerian, Assyrian, Akkadian and Babylonian), Tiamat is a primordial goddess of the ocean.    In our Shaman  book, she is pictured as huge, as a destroyer.

 

 

 

mardukThis handsome guy is Marduk, probably pronounced ‘Maratuk’.   He was a late-generation god from ancient Mesopotamia and patron deity of the city of Babylon. When Babylon became the political center of the Euphrates valley in the time of Hammurabi (18th century BC), he slowly started to rise to the position of the head of the Babylonian pantheon, a position he fully acquired by the second half of the second millennium BC.   In the city of Babylon, he resided in the temple Esagila.

 

 

 

 

tiamat battling mardukHere are Tiamat and Marduk depicted in the great epic battle that raised Marduk to the position of head of the deities.  It is suggested that the battle legend represents the fall of matriarchy and the rise of patriarchy.

 

 

 

 

tawa1This colorful personage is Kawa, the Sun god of the Hopi.  He is a representation of the spirit of the Sun, though he may on occasion be called the Sun Shield Kachina. He often appears standing to the side with a spruce tree in his left hand and a bell in his right. Also, he may appear in a Mixed Dance with the flute in his left hand that is associated with him in many myths.

The Hopi Indians are the westernmost of the Pueblo peoples.  Hopi Kachinas are supernaturals, embodying the spirits of living things and also the spirits of ancestors who have died and become a part of nature. Kachinas are believed to possess powers over nature, especially the weather, but higher gods limit the extent of their powers. Hopi men carve likenesses of the Kachinas from cottonwood root, and these are the well known Kachina dolls. Because there are many circumstances that arise requiring supernatural help, there are many Kachinas. Among the Hopi there are about 300 Kachinas that may be current, and at least another 200 that may be known but make only sporadic appearances.
This is what I love about reading;  the opportunity to learn.  If we don’t just cruise on past the things we don’t know about in order to just get on with the story, fiction can be a great source of information,  and a way to widen our world.

THE MANY DEATHS OF THE FIREFLY BROTHERS by Thomas Mullen

firefly brothersI can’t decide whether this book is a hoot or a deeply profound examination of what exactly is life, or both or just what.  But boy, was it fun.

It is set in the 1930s America, during the Depression.  A nice middle class family finds itself spiraling lower and lower as the father’s investments fail along with the economy.  The oldest son turns to running bootleg to earn money to support the family, gets busted twice, and after his release the second time, decides that robbing banks gives a better payoff.  He is joined by his youngest brother and off they go into the world of Baby Face Floyd, Dillinger, and the rest of the famous crime-spree guys.

The novel opens with the brothers, Jason and Whit Fireson, lying on slabs in a police morgue, full of bullet holes, dead.  Well, no, they are not dead.  At least, not any longer.  They WERE dead, but now, strangely enough, they are not.

So of course you know that with an opening like this, I am totally sucked in.  And you will be too.  Because who can resist folk hero outlaws, now called the Firefly Gang by the press and the public, robbing the banks that robbed the people?  And who seem to come back to life?  Well, not me, that’s for sure.

Remember Donny and Marie?  (“I’m a little bit country;  I’m a little bit rock and roll.”)  Well, this is a little bit paranormal, and a little bit crime fiction, and a whole lot of pretty good character development, and a whole lot more of action.  It is a story of Everyman in the Depression, the efforts to get by, the unemployment, the breadlines, the poverty, the dance marathons, the loss of everything with the Wall Street crash.  It is a story of struggle and desperation and hope, and ….. of resurrection.  Whooeeee momma!

Definitely one of the better books I have read lately.  Highly recommended.  Especially if you are hoping to wake up not dead after you die.

outlaws