Friday, March 27, 2009

The Gumshoe, the Witch, and the Virtual Corpse

I just finished reading 'The Gumshoe, the Witch, and the Virtual Corpse' by Keith Hartman and I loved it.

From amazon:
Every once in a while one finds a book that is genuinely surprising. 'The Gumshoe, the Witch, and the Virtual Corpse' is a tale that manages to break every rule and still be not just a great first novel, but a great piece of detective fiction, period. The setting is Atlanta in 2025, a city divided along religious and sexual preference lines. Magic works and shamans coexist with high technology. Fundamentalists have their own political party and television shows are available in several grades of sex and violence. Fortunately for the reader, people still murder each other.

The first victim was already dead - for several months. The desecrated remains are found in a graveyard, crucified upside-down, with signs of a magical ritual all about. Detective Megan Strand finds herself in the midst of an ugly crime with the Baptist News Network screaming about a Satanic plot to take over the world. But the next crimes are murders, one after the other. And each has the overtones of witchcraft and Satanism. The large fundamentalist segment of Atlanta seethes with rumor and panic.

If Wiccans are suspects, they are also victims, and several members of a coven turn up dead or missing. One of these is Jen Gray, who is the partner of P.I. Drew Parker. Parker begins to investigate and finds a trail that leads to the hit religious singer Justin Weir. It also leads the P.I. into the hands of Ice-in-Summer, a Cherokee Shaman who has some very strange plans for the detective. Fleeing through this chaos are two teenagers, Benji Danvers and Summer Jacobs, one a Baptist and the other a Wiccan. Benji has somehow drawn the attention of an unidentified group of agents (Men In Black Suits) and Summer helps to keep him one step ahead of an unknown fate.

Lest I forget, the primary cast also includes a mad artist, a senator with dubious ethics, the aforementioned singer, and a news witch. For Hartman these are not just players on a stage, but active participants. Each takes turn after turn at first person narrative and it can truly be said that this is a novel with no main character. For all that I dislike this kind of shifting viewpoint, Keith Hartmann manages to make a great success of it, rarely allowing the possibility of narrative confusion. Here the technique creates a baroque plot that is in perpetual motion and still manages to create a great deal of connection with the characters. This tale is a great success, whatever its genre is, and I am anxious to read the sequel.

Pros: The story line was superb. Even though there were so many character point of views, the story wasn’t bogged down by it.

I also loved the general idea of the book. Even though some of the societal views were extreme and radical (zero tolerance toward anything different), they felt completely plausible with the right set of circumstances.

Favorite passage:
“Daniel has never managed to fall in love.

And I don’t want to be the first. I don’t want to be the one who ruins the fantasy for him. I don’t want to be the one who can’t live up to all the impossible twenty-two-year-old expectations of love.

In his overly dramatic way, Daniel once told me that while his body might have racked up the mileage, his heart was still virgin territory. But I don’t want a virgin. I want someone who has been hurt, and stepped on, and had every last illusion shattered. Someone who comes to me cautiously, knowing the falling in love is easy and staying in love is hard, that passion dies and most relationships are doomed before they start. Someone I can love and an equal, not a student.”
Cons: The book left us with some loose story lines. We started with the gumshoe and I felt like we should have ended with him. Instead were left with almost as many questions as answers.

Overall: I recommend it to everyone. It was a great story and a refreshing change from other authors in the urban fantasy genera.

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