01/05/2011. Contributed by Pauline Morgan
Unholy Magic (The Adventures Of Chess Putnam book 2) by Stacia Kane. pub: Del Rey/Ballantine Books. 343 page paperback. Price: $ 7.99 (US), $ 9.99 (CAN). ISBN: 978-0-345-51558-2.
check out websites: www.delreybooks.com and www.staciakane.com
A question often asked of authors is whether there is anything they would not write about – anything that is off limits. Horror writers are particularly vulnerable to this question and often the answer changes as their circumstances do. Gore gets toned down, children become a no-go area. Yet to understand a character it is essential to get inside their heads, to examine their souls. Crime and thriller writers may feature a paedophile as the monster that the authorities are tracking down but do not try to see how that mind works. It may be warped but it is still a mind with perceptions, feelings and a kind of logic even if most of us are not in tune with it. Melanie Tem is one author who has had the courage to explore the minds of people who are normally regarded as outcasts of humanity such as paedophiles.
There are many who would also shy away from making their viewpoint character a drug addict, albeit a high functioning one. Stacia Kane’s heroine, Cesaria ‘Chess’ Putnam spends much of her waking life throwing pills down her throat. This is not a good idea as, if her addiction is discovered, she will lose her job. In a world where ghosts are real and malevolent, the Church of the Truth has a remit to keep people safe. If they fail, a hefty payout is due. Therefore, if you can fool the Church into believing that you are the victim of a genuine haunting you are onto a winner. To prevent fraudulent claims there are Debunkers. Chess is one.
As ‘Unholy Magic’ opens, she is going undercover to an illegal séance. The attendees are naïve, thinking that the ghost of their loved ones will be as nice as they were in life. Unfortunately, cute little Annabeth tries to eat her grieving mother, the summoner tries to poison Chess before the hit squad arrive so, after a hard day, she hopes to have a relaxing evening at a Downside music venue. Instead, she gets yanked out to a murder scene by Terrible, the enforcer for Bump, the local drug lord in whose territory Chess lives. As Bump gives her a degree of protection and supplies some of her drugs, Chess has to agree to look at the corpse. The victim, not the first, is a hooker and sex magic is involved in the death.
Alongside this clandestine case, Chess also has her normal work to attend to. The new situation involves a celebrity and she is expected to be discrete. She finds that she is having to juggle two cases that links but is unable to reveal where she is getting her information from. This is on top of concealing that she is also getting drugs and sex from the son of a rival gang leader. At every turn, the quagmire she is in tends to get stickier.
This is a well-written, fast-paced novel, dealing well with the conflicts in the heroine’s life. The seamy side of life is convincingly portrayed and the reasons behind Chess’s addiction are alluded to without being graphically spelled out – they are always lurking at the back of her mind. She is the kind of plausible character that makes the reader wonder how Chess as a child was allowed to slip through the net and not been given a better start. There will be some however who may consider the ethics of having a sympathetic lead character with such problems. It might be better to ask how many people we work with might not be hiding similar problems and whether we should be doing something about it. For Chess, the only way to cope is in the contents of her pill box. Above all, she is a survivor.
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