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Dead Eye: Pennies for the Ferryman
by Jim Bernheimer
Mike Ross sees dead people. He saw them in a big way in Iraq, where a couple of his war buddies were blown to bits by a roadside bomb right next to him and nearly killed him too. But he doesn’t start seeing them “walking around like regular people” until the eye-patch comes off after a cornea transplant saves the sight in his right eye. The cornea used to belong to a ghost hunter who suddenly developed the ability to see ghosts at the exact moment that bomb changed Mike’s life, and who mysteriously died 17 days later. And now, as Mike tries to get his life back together, he is suddenly faced with a new set of potentially life-threatening problems. And the “nearly departed” are going to have a lot to do with them.
At first, Mike just wants to concentrate on his belated college studies. But a cute girl encourages him to use his new gifts to help the dead cross over. Maybe, he reasons, he can make a bit of cash on the side, by claiming the rewards for solving murders and missing-persons cases. One such case even nets him a girlfriend, though something always seems to prevent them from getting close. Meanwhile, Mike soon learns the downside of being a “ferryman”—ghosts can be dangerous! They can punch, kick, and even use weapons, though most of their weapons are only harmful to other ghosts. Given enough ectoplasmic energy (or “spook juice”), some ghosts known as Skinwalkers can even take possession of a living person. Mike experiences this himself and, to put it mildly, it’s nasty.
Even as Mike learns to protect himself from ghostly enemies, his danger grows. Unknowingly he has gotten himself in the middle of a war between gangs of power-peddling ghosts, some of whom are actual historical figures (mainly from the Civil War era), and who have divided up the territory around Washington, D.C. It’s spooky (no pun intended) to think how much influence these revenants may hold over mortal politics. But what’s even spookier is the plan a Skinwalker, a treacherous ghost, and a fiend known as the Beast of Baltimore have in store for Mike.
Judging from its inconclusive ending, this book is meant to be the beginning of a series. And I’ll hand it to Mr. Bernheimer, whose signature is on the first page of my copy: it’s an entertaining story with an engagingly imperfect hero, a story that I would enjoy seeing continued. If I must complain about anything—and face it, I must—it’s the sloppiness of the punctuation and a few other minor but irritating grammatical issues. Frankly, Mr. Bernheimer’s story deserves a better editor than it had for the edition I read. Perhaps later editions will correct, or have already corrected, these mistakes, so I won’t feel any embarrassment in recommending the book. As it is, I approve of it with the reservation that readers with grammatical OCD should keep their anti-anxiety drug of choice at hand while reading this book—I recommend Darjeerling tea—because, after all, it’s the story that matters.