Author: James Swain
Length: 350 pages
Genre: Urban fantasy
Plot Basics: Peter Warlock is a psychic stage magician whose powers are sought after by the FBI to help them catch bad guys. When Peter is visited by the shadow people, he is shown a disturbing vision of a seriel killer. It will take all of Peter’s powers to keep his friends safe and stop the killer from unleashing a more deadly force.
Banter Points: I wanted to like this book. I really did. The premise is great — a psychic stage magician fighting crime, what’s not to love there?
Bummer Points: I gave this book one star on Goodreads. I’m not sure I’ve ever given anything one star before.
The concept couldn’t save this book for the writing. I’m stunned that James Swain has published 14 other novels. This book was why new writers are admonished to “show, don’t tell.” I kept reading thinking I’d get over a lousy beginning, but it never got better. By the last 50 pages, I was skimming so I could find out in broad strokes what happened. The truth was, I didn’t care.
What went so wrong?
The book, to me, suffered from too much telling. I knew I was supposed to be afraid for the characters, but I never was. There was no sense of immediacy to the story, probably because Peter was so concerned about his ongoing magic shows. Maybe if he canceled some of them as things heated up, that would have shown how events were consuming him.
Also, the author defined or explained way too much. For example:
Munns stared at the cell phone lying on his kitchen table. It was a clamshell Motorola, ancient by today’s standards. He would have bought a newer model if he’d had friends to talk to. But Munns had no friends. Few serial killers did.
1. Readers aren’t dumb. We know clamshell phones are out of date.
2. We’ve seen that Munns has no friends. This example is from a good 2/3rds of the way in to the story.
3. Every cop show everywhere has taught us that serial killers either a) have no friends or b) are Dexter-like in keeping friends and still being serial killers.
In another place, he explains the show “The Walking Dead.” I don’t watch it, but I know what it’s about. In something completely unrelated to the shadow people plot, a character is thinking about the show and is contemplating “going on the Internet to post a comment.” This yanked me completely out of the story that was already faltering because I got so distracted by the explanation and wondering who “contemplates posting comments on the Internet” about TV shows.
The truth is, shows like Buffy and Angel and books like The Dresden Files have set the bar for this kind of plot really high. Magicians tracking down serial killers — Harry Dresden book one. A seemingly normal person with a demon trapped in them? Angel, the Sunnydale High Principal, Harry Dresden’s vampire brother Thomas. Those characters all have scary monsters inside them. Peter’s may have caused him to do some terrible things, but he seemed unaffected by it. What he learns should have had him torn between never, ever going out in public or facing another person again and needing to stop the serial killer at the risk of everything else.
Word Nerd Recommendation: Skip it.