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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.
In the harbor town of Magic Beach, Odd has spent the last month cooking for a retired film star, accompanied by a ghost dog named Boo and the silent spirit of Frank Sinatra. He spends a lot of his spare time studying biographies of Sinatra, in the hope of using what he learns to convince Old Blue-Eyes to move on. But before he manages this, he will need to make the Chairman so mad that that he pops a poltergeist. Odd’s life depends on it, when he finds himself backed into a corner by a conspiracy to blow up several American cities with nuclear bombs. Sticking to his well-tested strategy of “making it up as he goes along,” Odd gropes his way through one thick, foggy night, eluding armed henchmen, surviving sickening betrayals, infiltrating a diesel-powered tugboat, and protecting the life of a mysterious pregnant girl whose fate may be even more important than the targets the bad guys have in sight.
Along the way, Odd meets some memorable people. There’s the horribly scarred lady who has forgiven the man who once tried to burn her to death. There’s the widow who, since her husband died, regularly obeys “twinges” in her gut that often lead her to save the lives of good people. There’s the corrupt police chief, whose personality is a battleground between good and evil. There’s the local minister, whose church has something indefinably wrong about it. And above all there’s Annamaria, whom he initially thinks of as “the Lady of the Bell.” Almost from the moment they meet, he finds himself risking his life to protect her, even though he knows hardly anything about her. The sense of a destiny tying the two of them together arrives at an inconvenient moment, just as a storm of evil blows ashore.
Dead bodies are soon dropping like rain, with chances of a nuclear holocaust, political assassinations, and the overthrow of the U.S. government increasing until after midnight. Many of the deaths will lie heavily on Odd Thomas’s fragile conscience. But a shared nightmare of mass murder also hangs in the scales. And a fresh start for the young “Paladin of the Dead” seems to be in order.
Odd Thomas narrates with modesty, humor, and that elusive quality that is most nearly captured by the phrase “emotional intelligence.” Which is not to say that he doesn’t have lots of the ordinary type of intelligence. He’s been brushing up his Shakespeare. His actions, while improvised, are not reckless but informed by a wisdom beyond his years. His conscience, while troubled, is still a good one. His emotions are warm, but tempered by philosophy. And though his philosophy sometimes includes cutting observations about human nature, popular religion, dirty politics, and the general way society and culture are going, it is over all a positive outlook, founded on a strong but not excessive love of life.
Four books in, I look forward to even more thrilling, amusing, touching, and often thought-provoking hours with Odd. His series goes on for another seven novels, as of this writing. The fifth and next in order is Odd Interlude.