Tag Archives: Paranormal

Pretty Little Dead Bad Things

I would like to start and say I am not, nor have I ever been, a fan of “series” novels. I have too short of an attention span to commit to that sort of thing, usually. I would now like to thank—and damn—Gary McMahon for making me eat those words.

I have recently read the two books comprising his Thomas Usher series, and can only hope for more. With a series, character is key, and Gary gives us some incredible examples.

In the first of the pair, Pretty Little Dead Things, we meet Thomas Usher, a broken man reeling from the loss of his wife and daughter. He survives the accident that claimed his family with a gift—or a curse depending on your perception. He can see the recently deceased, and it ain’t pretty. Trying to remain on the periphery of society, he does odd psychic investigative work and crosses paths with some seedy and unpleasant people. He wears a uniform of tattoos: a list of names of the dead he feels he has failed.

When he lands a job trying to find the culprit behind the strange murder of a gangster’s daughter, it changes him forever.

His gift proves to be his strongest weapon and weakest link, as he walks the blurred line between our world and a much darker fringe dimension. Where evils, both human and cosmic, are on his tail and where things are decidedly not as they seem.

Dead Bad Things picks up months after the Pretty Little Dead Things’s conclusion, and cleverly features sideline characters from that first novel and brings them forward for deeper scrutiny.

Our reluctant hero begins this chapter of the series in a London slum, waking up to the ringing of the telephone in a haunted house. A robotic voice directs him and starts him on a sloping path of horrific crimes and disturbing visions. Someone is killing children, drilling holes in their heads. People are not as they seem. Usher will discover many things along the way, nasty vile things.

Now, I gave away very little, because to do so would be a blasphemy. You must read McMahon’s engaging words, his descriptive flair for painting dreary and haunting visions behind our eyes. His rundown neighborhoods and scumbag dives are so repulsive, I felt the fleas crawling on my skin. The baddies are really bad and the good guys are sometimes bad as well. Nothing is ever really what you seem to think it is, and when you think you’ve got it sussed, you’re wrong. I love that.

I was at work, on lunch break, when I was finishing this book. A kid asked me what it was about, and as I started explaining his eyes began to glaze. I knew I was losing him, so I said, “It’s like an unholy cocktail of The Sixth Sense, Memento and Wire in the Blood…with an ounce of Hellraiser.” I got the impression that was lost on him as well. Sigh…

Both of these titles are available from Angry Robot Books.

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The Best Paranormal Crime Stories Ever Told

Ellery Queen, but with a supernatural twist? Nice. I can get into that. And that is sort of what this book is.

The first few offerings had me worried. They are what you might describe as “kitchen sink” stories. Why write a story about vampires when you can include werewolves as well? And wizards and psychics and fairies and… you get the idea. Think shades of Sookie Stackhouse here or—dare I say it?—Twilight. If it’s your cuppa, you’ll enjoy those tales. They are competently written, but I don’t care for the style.

Thankfully, there is a wider variety here than the first few stories would suggest. “The Judgement,” by Anne Perry, is a nifty crime story set in the context of a Middle Ages witch trial. Very enjoyable, if a little bit heavy-handed with the moral at the end. Carol Nelson Douglas’s “Special Surprise Guest Appearance By…” is a tale of a rivalry between Las Vegas illusionists. As you can guess, there is more that stage magic going on here. “She’s Not There,” by Steve Perry, tells the story of a supernaturally gifted thief. Max Allen Collins’s “The Night of Their Lives” is a Depression Era whodunit that features an undercover police detective on the trail of a wealthy heiress who runs a soup kitchen that she uses for her own devices. The twist at the end of this story was very well done.

Were these stories The Best Ever Told? That title alone sets the bar pretty high. I’d say about a third of these stories were very well done, a third were just okay, and a third fell short of the mark for me.

Not the best ever, but not bad by any means.

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