What if, instead of all-American journalist Clark Kent, Superman turns out to be an Indian Air Force pilot named Vir Singh? What if his archnemesis also happens to be his commanding officer? What’s in store for the world when passengers on a flight from London to Delhi suddenly start to present super powers? One of those passengers, a nerdy guy named Aman, has thoroughly studied the prophetic texts on this subject—namely, comic books—but he isn’t sure they give the right answers. It may not be as simple as powered people coming together and using their talents to serve mankind. As he struggles to understand the purpose for his newfound abilities, he begins to wonder whether that thinking will make him a superhero or a supervillain. Pointless as a city-wrecking knock-down-drag-out between indestructible heroes and villains may be, the survivors of British Airways Flight 142 seem to be choosing sides for just such a fight. Such is the frailty of human nature.
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.
In the fourth “Odd Thomas” novel, a 21-year-old ghost-whisperer continues his sabbatical from his career as a fry cook. Every time he tries to get away from the stress of dealing with the dead, trouble finds him—bigger and nastier than ever. His small hometown in the Mojave desert wasn’t peaceful enough. His retreat to a mountaintop monastery was spoiled by a terrifying ordeal. And now it seems he can’t even lie low on a sunny California beach without tripping over a terrorist plot. Perhaps it’s serendipity. Perhaps it’s just that his gift always leads him where he is needed. But somehow, it almost seems as if Odd’s moves are guided by a master plan. It’s tough on him; but luckily for most folks, it’s even tougher on the bad guys.
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.
After being groomed from childhood to become a supervillain bent on world domination, Cadel Greeniaus, formerly Cadel Piggott, is just trying to blend in and live a normal life. He goes to computer programming classes at the University of New South Wales, as if he hasn’t already achieved fiendish levels of hacking skills. He lives in a little weatherboard house with the foster parents who are trying to adopt him. And he refuses even to think about having anything to do with the global manhunt for Prosper English, the criminal mastermind who raised him. He figures that if he keeps his nose clean, Prosper won’t have any reason to try to kill him. Again.
The opening chapter of this book was so insanely fast-paced that I thought, “There’s no way the author can keep this up; and even if he does, I’m not going to like it.” Fortunately, this turned out to be because this is the third book of a trilogy, and there was a lot of background from the previous two books to catch up on. Leave it to me to start a trilogy with the third book! Now I’m going to have to go back and read “Bloodsucking Fiends” and “You Suck”, both subtitled “A Love Story.” One could seriously apply the title “Love Story” to this entire trilogy (as one website actually does). But that wouldn’t do justice to a series of hilarious, raunchy, and sometimes touching books that give a refreshing shakedown to an all-too-earnest genre: the vampire novel.
Here is a most satisfying recent example of the classic type of private-eye novel. The detective is the whimsically named Cormoran Strike, an ex-military policeman whose career in the army ended when a roadside bomb took away half a leg. His name has nothing to do with his father, a philandering superstar rock musician with whom he has no relationship whatever, and a lot to do with his “supergroupie” mother, who was flaky and impractical and died with a heroin needle stuck in her arm. He is 35 years old, up to his ears in debt, picking up the pieces after the end of a stormy 15-year relationship with a beautiful woman called Charlotte, and struggling to keep his business afloat while sleeping on a camp-bed in his office. Yet, perhaps surprisingly, he is a very determined, methodical investigator. He has a special gift for drawing answers out of people who don’t want to be questioned. And when he looks at the evidence of a celebrity death that the police declared to be suicide, he sees a different picture emerge.
I’m just going to come out and say this. It’s “Moby-Dick”, only without the boring bits. Well, no. What I just described would be an 80-page novella. This is a full-size book, filled wall-to-wall with thrilling action, squirm-worthy tension, weird discoveries, and warm, appealing characters. Also, instead of water, the ocean in this version of “Moby-Dick” is a seemingly endless landmass filled with merging, splitting, tangling, and criss-crossing lines of rail. Where the soil is loose enough for creatures to burrow in it, the railsea takes care of itself (or is maintained by some supernatural agency; but let’s leave the theological questions to one side). It isn’t safe for people to set foot on this ground because it is infested with mutant meat-eating oversized worms, insects, and furry things. The rockier bits, islands if you will, are populated by human settlements. The higher elevations, where the atmosphere is poisonous to earthly life, belong to creatures brought here and left behind by visitors from alien worlds.