Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Dead Eye: Pennies for the Ferryman review

    Ghosts are the red-headed stepchild of the monster world.

    The problem with them is inherent: people want ghosts to exist. You can't say that about vampires, demons, or werewolves. Everyone, though, would like there to be proof positive of an afterlife. Also, ghost stories rarely have much of an impression. They're usually restricted to a singular haunted house or possessing people at their worst. This is far from the level of danger that a vampire represents to life and limb.

    Jim Bernheimer's Dead Eye solve most of these problems.

    He might not have written the ghostly version of The Dresden Files, mostly because Jim Butcher already did that with Ghost Story, but he's written something which is in the same ballpark. Dead Eye is a fun, witty, and engaging comedy-horror series. The first novel is a great start to what I hope is a longstanding series.

    The premise is Mike Ross, Iraq War veteran, has lost his eye due to a roadside bomb. Getting an cornea transplant from a psychic, he discovers this awakens his own latent potential. Mike is soon deluged with requests for help from the local spirits ranging from helping them solve their own murders to protecting loved ones. Soon, Mike discovers the spirit world is full of the same sorts of predators the living world is, including a set of powerful warlords who have divided the United States between them.

    Mike Ross is an excellent protagonist, possessing a dry understated sense of humor and a reluctant sense of humor. Mike is more interested in making money with his gift than being a monster hunter but he's not going to prey on people's grief either. While an army veteran, he's not a combat expert either. As such, Mike Ross is a perfectly "believable" hero overlooking his magical eye.

    I also like Mike's supporting cast of living and dead assistants. I'm particularly fond of his potential love interests Jenny and Candy. Jenny is an enthusiastic young woman who loves the idea of involving herself in the supernatural world. Candy, by contrast, is a fun-loving police officer who helps Mike through his problems. Of the two, I much preferred Candy but it seems the author prefers Jenny.

    The book functions as a series of events more than a single coherent narrative, putting Mike through a series of increasingly-oddball situations. We get to follow him as he slowly develops confidence in his abilities, figures out the origins of his powers, and copes with their effect on his mundane life. I especially liked how Mike deals with the fact his mother thinks he's either becoming a con man or gone insane.

    I'm a big fan of the book's episodic storytelling as it manages to give us a sense of the character through multiple adventures rather than just one crazy day. Jim Bernheimer has an eye for detail as to how an ability like Mike's would slowly take over his life. We see the ups and downs through cases both big and small. I like, also, how some people are more skeptical than others while no one reacts in a way which would make me think this wasn't taking place in the quote-unquote real-world.

    Despite this, the author lays the groundwork for a larger plot involving the Arlington National Cemetery Warlords and a being called the Beast. There's plenty of set-up for an entire series of books and I would find them very interesting to read. While ghosts are the only "monster" variety in the Dead Eye world, there are multiple types of ghosts with varying ranges of ability.

    The fact some humans are vulnerable to possession and capable of being affected by ghosts gives spooks some bite. I also like how ghosts are no different from the people they are in life. Some are good, some are evil, and most fall somewhere in-between with their moralities tending to reflect the time which they died. There's quite a few humorous scenes influenced by the fact Mike is dealing with people who grew up in the 19th century.

    The American Civil War plays a big role in the setting's history, providing several historical and pseudo-historical figures to series' mythology. An ongoing subplot is ghosts draining energy from their memorials in the living world. This helps with the realism of the book, showing a world where the living and the dead are still intertwined. It's imaginative world-building like that which makes the book a cut above typical examples of the genre.

    The book has some flaws. For instance, I thought the author telegraphed too much that he didn't think Candy and Mike weren't right for each other, not allowing their relationship to progress believably. A series of unbelievable obstacles threw themselves in their way for seemingly no other reason than to prevent the two from getting together. Likewise, I felt the climatic confrontation between Mike and the Beast was unnecessary. The book had a perfectly sound climax with villain "Lord Justice." I believe the later third of the book should have been an entire volume in itself. I don't think the book is all that worse for either, though.

    This is a great urban fantasy novel and I think fans of the genre would really love it. Its got great world-building, characterization, humor, and action. I recommend anyone who wants a quick enjoyable paranormal read to pick it up.


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