Robert Galbraith’s first novel enjoyed great financial and critical success even before he turned out to be J. K. Rowling, she of the Harry Potter series. The excitement of being a first-time author all over again seems to have spurred her imagination, bringing us this second Cormoran Strike mystery. I think it is as scintillating as the first installment, and if you’ll forgive the slight spoiler, I look forward to following what promises to be an ongoing series.
He still keeps saying, “I’m just a fry cook,” even though it’s been 19 months since he last wielded a spatula in anger. During that time, he has followed the tug of his psychic senses from one horrific ordeal to another. He has stopped mass murders before they happened. He has staved off a nuclear apocalypse, canceled an alien invasion, and unpicked a snarl in the fabric of space time. He has exterminated nests of serial killers, rescued kidnapping victims from demonic villains and their undead minions, and helped the restless spirits of the dead move on to the next big thing. He has accepted help from spunky old ladies, protected the lives of innocent children, and in all probability, saved the world. But he doesn’t like to think of himself as anything more than a humble fry cook. It’s one of the things we love about Odd Thomas.
If Famous Witches and Wizards Cards featured beloved wizards from the pages of literature, you know there would be a card each for J.K. Rowling’s Dumbledore, Tolkien’s Gandalf, Peter Beagle’s Schmendrick, and John Bellairs’s Prospero… I’ve already got quite a long list in mind. Now that I’ve read this brief book by the Newbery Medal- and National Book Award-winning author of the “Prydain Chronicles”, I have another name to add to that list: Arbican. He doesn’t do much magic in this book, and most of what he does goes wrong, and on first acquaintance he may seem a bit brusque and grumpy, not very lovable at all. But in the last few pages of this book, he earns his Chocolate Frog Card, wands down. In fact, for the sake of one paragraph, a single speech in which he finally sets straight what is and isn’t true about fairy tales, he’s a shoe-in.
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.
The fifth and final book of “The Parasol Protectorate” confronts Lady Alexia Maccon, née Tarabotti, and her team of supernatural sleuths, with a mystery that reaches back into ancient Egypt. Intertwined with this mystery are a present-day murder case, a dark secret that threatens to break up the pack of werewolves led by Alexia’s Alpha husband, and the lingering puzzle of the father she never knew. And so a racy, funny series of romantic whodunits, blending vampires, werewolves, 1870s steampunk, and complex but convincing world-building, comes to an exciting and richly satisfying conclusion.
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.
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.
Jack, last name withheld, lives off the grid in New York City. He has no social security number. He pays no income taxes. All his IDs are fake. As far as officialdom is concerned, he doesn’t exist. And that’s the way he likes it. “Repairman Jack,” as he is professionally known, fixes problems for a living. When people come to his website looking for someone to fix their broken appliances, he ignores them. When they need help with a trickier problem, he chooses whether to get back to them or not. He can afford to be picky. His fee is very high. But he’s a tough, resourceful guy who knows how to stay unnoticed, how to follow and not be spotted, how to move and not be followed, how to find out what’s really going on, and then how to deal with it. He’s not a bad guy. But he’s no stranger to deadly force either. If you mess with him… look out.
In Book 3 of the “Odd Thomas” series, the young fry cook who sees dead people has retreated to a monastery in the mountains for a needed break from the stress of his quiet hometown. He only wants a little time to heal from two harrowing encounters with monsters in human form. But his respite is cut short by the appearance of bodachs at the abbey—or more precisely, in the school for mentally and physically disabled children run by nuns, next door to the monastery. These silent, shadowy creatures always seem drawn to places where there will soon be violence on a big scale. For reasons Odd cannot begin to guess, the gloating bodachs have started to crowd around these defenseless and unwanted children. He has only a day or two to figure out how to protect them, and from whom. Or what.
Yes, Odd Thomas is odd. But Odd is also his first name. And yes, Odd Thomas is a little stressed out by the fact that he sees dead people and the trouble that sometimes accompanies their apparition. In fact, he’s worried about his mental health, and his experiences have aged him way beyond his 21 years, at least in his mind. So when his second volume of memoirs kicks in, we find him on a leave of absence from the fry cook job that he does so well but that he doesn’t think his nerves can take. He is starting to think about getting into the tire business (installation, not sales) since it seems even less demanding than slinging hash. He is still pulling himself together after the death of his fiancée Stormy. He is enjoying the quiet of the small Mojave Desert town of Pico Mundo, California. And he is still rooming with Elvis, the rock ‘n’ roll legend turned silent ghost.