IN THE DARKNESS THAT’S WHERE I’LL KNOW YOU by Luke Smitherd

“There are hangovers, there are bad hangovers, and then there’s waking up inside someone else’s head. Thirty-something bartender Charlie Wilkes is faced with this exact dilemma when he wakes to find finds himself trapped inside The Black Room; a space consisting of impenetrable darkness and a huge, ethereal screen floating in its center. It is through this screen that he sees the world of his female host, Minnie.

How did he get there? What has happened to his life? And how can he exist inside the mind of a troubled, fragile, but beautiful woman with secrets of her own? Uncertain whether he’s even real or if he is just a figment of his host’s imagination, Charlie must enlist Minnie’s help if he is to find a way out of The Black Room, a place where even the light of the screen goes out every time Minnie closes her eyes…”

This was one freaking weird book.  Well, no, not the book, but the idea.  A guy wakes up to find himself in a black space, which he eventually decides is the mind of a woman he has never met.

OK, I am trying to figure out how to describe more of the plot.  Just let me say it involves some kind of regressive action, him being him being him being him and her and different lives or worlds or …. I give up.

It was great for about half the book, then got just a little too too, and then ended definitely too too.  Maybe I am grousing because I didn’t fully follow it, fully understand it.  I am a simple peasant after all.

It kind of defies genre.  That’s what I like about a lot of the new works — they are not specifically romance, or mystery, or sci fi, etc.  this was originally written in four parts, then eventually put together in one volume and issued as a single book.  The writing was good, and the idea definitely something really different.

I read his Physics of the Dead  quite some time ago,and loved it.  You can see what I said about it here.  What I said about it was a whole lot more than what I have said about this offering, because, well, because waking up inside someone else’s head where the walls seem to be the physical mind of the person, and there are multiple universes is hard to have a conversation about, wouldn’t you say?

Side note:  Doesn’t ‘universe’ mean one verse?  As in uni being the prefix for single, or one?  So therefore, I should be saying ‘there are multiverses’, not ‘there are multiple universes’.  Food for thought, as if waking up in someone else’s mind isn’t enough food for thought for one post.

 

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DAUGHTERS OF BABYLON by Elaine Stirling

Well, this was fun.   A little bit history, (Eleanor of Aquitaine), a little bit woo woo (Mexican brujas [witches or shamans],  a little bit paranormal (appearances of djinns), and a little bit of confusion on my part (because sometimes all the spark plugs are not firing properly).

Silvina Kestral agrees to clear out the house of an eccentric dead actress amidst the ruins of a medieval priory in the French Pyrenees where she comes across references to the Daughters of Babylon, and comes across a tall dark stranger in the attic.  A Mexican cane cutter with a party of witches and a sense of rhyme,  a 19-year-old, badly married queen named Eleanor of Aquitaine, and a modern day poet, feature prominently.

It’s all about poetry, portals to other dimensions, (I think).  The blurb says “Literary historical mysteries, split timeline puzzle mysteries, magical realism mystery: whatever term you choose to label them, the ability of these genre-blending books to trap the reader in a labyrinth of intrigue and wonder.”  Yep.  I was intrigued, all right.

More blurb:  “Crusader battles in the Holy Land, painful love affairs and courtly romance, a remote French community not far from Carcassonne where events in the time of Eleanor of Aquitaine still resonate powerfully today: some of the ingredients of Daughters of Babylon might appear familiar at first. But spiced with Gabo-style Mesoamerican magical realism courtesy of the Mexican nagual and his witches, … we begin to learn from the understanding of cyclical deep time known to the Incas, Aztecs and Mayans, and we see that at some level these times are not separated at all. The links between these times have been induced for a noble purpose; they are not coincidences, nor contrived ‘leakage’ across time due to a dramatic event. This book describes a maniobra, a magical deep time maneuver of extraordinary complexity.”

Enjoyable  story, with a soupçon of implausibility if you are of a pragmatic turn of mind, but I think if we call it fabulism, we can get comfortable with the whole idea.

 

 

 

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.

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.