01/06/2011. Contributed by Pauline Morgan
City Of Ghosts (The Adventures Of Chess Putnam book 3) by Stacia Kane. pub: Del Rey/Ballantine Books. 408 page paperback. Price: $ 7.99 (US), $ 9.99 (CAN). ISBN: 978-0-345-51559-9).
check out websites: www.delreybooks.com and www.staciakane.com
Back in the past, when people used sit around in smoke filled rooms on winters’ nights, they told ghost stories. The idea was to see who could narrate the scariest. Then, it was assumed that all spirits that still hung around were malevolent. Nice ghosts didn’t hang around. They had all gone on to whatever promised land their religion had prepared them for. Then along came the spiritualists who claimed to be able to act as a medium through which the grieving could speak to their loved ones and get reassuring messages from them. Most of these practitioners were fakes and in Victorian England there were men, many highly respected, who made a point of debunking the frauds.
Cesaria ‘Chess’ Putnam is a Debunker. She works for the Church. Not quite the Church we recognise but having more mediaeval and magical overtones – you don’t have to believe anything, just tell them when you have seen a ghost. Her job is to deal with hauntings and send the ghosts back to the City of Souls where they are confined. Chess is not the usual Church employee as she lives in the unsavoury area of Downside, hangs out with the local gangs and is a drug user. Chemicals are the way she deals with the traumas of her childhood. She has to hide her addiction if she wants to keep her job and enjoys the freedom to work alone and needs the bonuses she gets for good work to pay for her habit.
The plots of this and the previous two novels, ‘Unholy Ghosts’ and ‘Unholy Magic’, resonate. Though each can stand alone, having read the earlier volumes helps understand the nuances. At the start of ‘City Of Ghosts’, Chess is expected to attend an execution. The woman she help convict of holding an illegal séance and summoning a hungry ghost is to be beheaded and her ghost taken to the City of Ghosts by a psychopomp, a genuine term for an escort of the dead. Unfortunately, it does not go as planned and one of the Church Elders is killed. To begin with, this looks like an introductory aside to introduce the unusual world view. Kane is a skilful writer and throughout this trilogy she has been setting up situations which only become relevant later.
Events from earlier volumes impinge greatly on Chess’s state of mind during ‘City Of Ghosts’. Lex, son of a rival gang lord and her sometime lover, has introduced her to the tunnels under the city. These were all supposed to have been closed off because of the danger of finding ghosts in them. When Chess pursues a suspect into them, she cannot tell the Church how she knows about them or Terrible, the enforcer of Bump, her usual supplier. She has also fallen out with Terrible as he caught her having sex with Lex in a graveyard – despite the fact that she was being affected by sex magic at the time and they were found out due to an anonymous phone call. Chess has realised that she really wants Terrible as a friend at minimum and he will not allow her to explain the situation. Her social life is totally shot and is not made easier when she is given a special assignment by the Church. A group of witches known as the Lamaru are back in town and are plotting to destroy the Church, free the ghosts and create anarchy. Not only is Chess forced to work with a woman she does not trust, but accepts a Binding spell which will not permit her to talk about the case to anyone other than those involved in it. When Bump wants her to find out for him what is going on, she physically cannot tell him.
When her instincts take her in particular directions, Chess finds that her new partner either gives her ideas no credence or tries to steer her in other directions. The fact that she cannot tell either side where she is getting her information from only adds to her frustration.
If you can put Chess’s personal angst to one side, this is a fast-paced, action-filled novel. It has all the ingredients of this sub-genre – sex, gore and supernatural beings. It is, however, advisable not to leave it around where children can pick it up.
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