It’s the fifteenth book of the Dresden Files. I know some avid readers who say the series has long since become same-old, same-old. Weirdly enough, I’m still engaged.
In the weird version of San Francisco featured in the same author’s “Love Story” trilogy of vampire novels—”Bloodsucking Fiends”, “You Suck”, and “Bite Me”—lives a textbook specimen of the creature known as the Beta Male. His name is Charlie Asher. He runs a second-hand shop (inherited from his father), shares a four-story apartment building (ditto) with his lesbian sister, and can’t believe his luck when a beautiful Jewish girl marries him and has his daughter. But then death swoops down in the form of a seven-foot-tall record store owner whose name, like his wardrobe, is Minty Green. Suddenly Charlie is a widower, a single father, and because he could see Death coming for his wife, he’s Death as well.
When Cole and his sixth-grader friends troop down the basement steps to view a spooky Halloween house of horrors, they’re more worried about whether they’re too old to go trick-or-treating than about being kidnapped. But the basement is already nearly full of caged kids waiting to be forced down a ladder in the floor. Cole manages to hide until everybody has gone down the hole, wondering how anyone could think of getting away with kidnapping so many kids at once. Then he follows them. His plan is just to find out where the kids are being taken, so he can report back to the police. But the hole in the basement floor proves to be a portal to another world—and it’s a one-way trip.
Random House sent me a copy of this latest book by the author of the “100 Cupboards” and “Ashtown Burials” series. I thank the author and his wife for arranging it and apologize for once again taking so long over such a short book. Released in April 2014, it is as Heather Wilson described it to me, a mash-up of “Beowulf + football + Florida swamps.” As befits a book based on an epic poem—the classic work of Old English literature, in case you slept through your high school literature class—N.D. Wilson’s retelling is filled with heroes and magic and dreadful monsters, features a seemingly invincible being of ancient and evil power, and has the ring of poetry flowing through its paragraphs of prose.
India-born author Samit Basu introduced a new wrinkle on the superhero cape and spandex, with ordinary people on a present-day flight from London to Delhi becoming extraordinary in what would come to be called the First Wave. Each person on that flight, and on several other flights around the world, suddenly developed super powers based on what they wanted most in life. Some became villains, others heroes, and quite a few of them perished in the struggle for world domination that followed.
In the sixth “Odd Thomas” novel, a young fry cook who sees dead people continues his sabbatical from the spatula and grill. As in his previous two adventures, he finds trouble brewing in a misnamed California coastal town. In “Odd Hours” it was Magic Beach, where practically everything in town is named contrary to its nature, where premonitions of nuclear disaster forced him into the role of avenging angel, and where he was joined in his travels by a mysterious pregnant girl named Annamaria. In “Odd Interlude”, the town was Harmony Corners, where Annamaria memorably pointed out that there was no harmony and where an entire clan lived as slaves of a psychic puppet-master with ET DNA. Now Odd finds himself in the guest tower of a country estate called Roseland, where there are no roses, and something (by any other name) smelleth rotten. He senses that it may be the most evil place he has ever visited. He wants to leave immediately. But Annamaria tells him that someone at Roseland needs to be saved, and only Odd can do it.
In the fourth “Repairman Jack” novel, the rakoshi are back. Those were the blue-skinned, yellow-eyed, man-eating demons from Indian prehistory, who terrorized Jack and his loved ones in “The Tomb”. Now the last rakosh—the one who left his claw-marks on Jack’s chest—has turned up in a freak show at the same quaint Long Island town where Jack battled the otherness in “Conspiracies”. Jack is torn between killing it, to make sure it can never hurt Gia and Vicky again, and leaving it alone to die in captivity. But his decision is complicated by an outbreak of extreme violence, the result of a designer drug that has become all the rage (ha, ha) in the streets of Manhattan.
This book is an exception to the rule as “Odd Thomas” adventures go, even apart from its origin as an e-book serial. Until now, Odd has used his paranormal abilities—seeing dead people, psychic magnetism, the occasional prophetic dream, etc.—mainly to stave off merely mortal monsters. His powers have helped him to stay alive while killing evil people before they can carry out their plans to cause death on an even more massive scale. He cut short an attempt to shoot up and bomb a shopping mall. He saved a hostage from a witchy woman and her wacko minions. He protected a schoolful of monks, nuns, and disabled children from a mad scientist’s killer experiment. And he defused a conspiracy to nuke several American cities and use the chaos to take over the country. Though the mysterious power that keeps pulling him from one crisis to another has been picking up speed and magnitude like an avalanche—though Odd very reasonably suspects that he can’t survive much more of this—he can at least take comfort in the fact that, apart from his psychic powers, he has only had to cope with normal human wickedness. More or less.
The third and (for now) final book in the “Kane Chronicles” begins with an apology “for any inconvenience the end of the world may have caused you.” As the story unfolds, narrated alternately by siblings Carter and Sadie Kane, you’ll become increasingly inclined to accept their apology. Some catastrophes are really hard to prevent. And though the young Kanes often feel responsible even for things that are out of their control, they are finally ready to save the world, once and for all, from the ancient Egyptian serpent-god Apophis and the chaos he represents.
Jack is still trying to live life his way—which means being non-existent in the eyes of the System. No criminal record. No tax filings. No social security number. Fake identities only. The rapid pace of technology both helps and hinders him in this quest. Email and voicemail are easier to deal with than having to check the answering machine in a dummy office. Credit cards, paid off promptly in the name of dead children, make it easier to go unnoticed as he buys supplies for his problem-fixing business. On the other hand, government databases make it harder to get away with all this victimless identity theft. It’s hard for a hands-on kind of guy to keep up with the fast-changing world, especially when (going by the books’ publication dates) last summer was 16 years ago. It’s hard to stay committed to a risky, often violent line of work when there’s a beautiful woman worrying about you and a sweet little girl counting on you. And that’s not even bringing up Jack’s dad, who wants him to move down to Florida and get a real job.