1/04/2011. Contributed by Pauline Morgan
Unholy Ghosts (The Adventures Of Chess Putnam book 1) by Stacia Kane. pub: Del Rey/Ballantine Books. 346 page paperback. Price: $ 7.99 (US), $ 8.99 (CAN). ISBN: 978-0-345-51557-5.
check out websites: www.delreybooks.com and www.staciakane.com
The beginning couple of pages from any book are vitally important. They give clues to a potential reader to what kind of book they are holding. If it doesn’t catch their interest, the book goes back on the shelf and a sale is lost. The reader needs to be caught from the first paragraph. Just as there are readers of different genres, there are also writers who take different approaches to this crucial element of their novel. Some, like Sally Spedding, like an atmospheric description to set the tone of the volume and lead the reader from the ordinary to the extraordinary. Others focus on setting up a background so that the reader does not feel lost when dumped onto an alien planet. Stacia Kane goes straight for the jugular.
‘Unholy Ghosts’ dumps Cesaria Putman, Debunker for the Church of the Truth straight in to a situation. The skill of the writing is that although we have no idea who she is or what the situation is, we quickly work out enough to realise that she is in danger. That danger comes from a malevolent ghost that wants to kill her. Once she has resolved the situation, we begin to discover that this is about ten years in our future and that everything we believed about what happened after death was wrong. In one week, known as Haunted Week, all the ghosts of the dead manifested and went on a killing spree. What caused the eruption is not explained. The only thing that saved humanity was the Church of Truth, the Elders of whom were witches. Now the dead are confined in the City of the Dead and Debunkers, like Chess Putnam, are trained to deal with any that are still at large. Always on the lookout for a quick buck, some people try to fake hauntings because if it is a genuine ghost, there is a large payout to compensate for the distress caused.
Chess is not your usual feisty, clean-living ghost hunter. She is a messed up human being on many levels. Although the Church gave her an education and security, she has problems with authority so normally works alone. Before the Church recognised her talent for magic, she had to endure a string of abusive foster homes. In order to cope with the past, she takes drugs and lives in an area of the city called Downside. It is not a salubrious area but it has what she needs including a market where she can by her narcotics as well as magical items. Her supplier, Bump, wants her to do a little job for him. In return, he will wipe out her debts and not tell the Church that she is an addict. All he wants is for her to check out a reputedly haunted disused airfield and get rid of the ghosts if there are any. Bump’s rival, Slobag, wants her to not get rid of the ghosts and in return, he will supply all her drug needs. Chess has a dilemma to solve and well as a haunting to investigate. She stumbles in to something far bigger; some really nasty black magic which she ought to report to the Church but knows she will be in deep trouble as she cannot explain how she got the information.
The action is fast and furious as Chess goes from one crisis to another. Kane uses few words to paint in the background of the situation the reader is dropped in yet the picture is clear. The Church is a bulwark for the lives of most people but as in many societies there is always a dark underbelly. This is the place Chess inhabits, where all her problems come from. For her, survival is the most important facet of her existence and she will take any means to ensure it. The characters of Downside are realistic and not people most of us would like to meet. This is the kind of book that could well do with a second reading to pick out all the nuances and clues packed into it that are missed first time round.
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Stephen Hunt's novels - USA