Dead Things by Stephen Blackmoore (2013)
I stumbled upon Dead Things by Stephen Blackmoore when I was trying to find new authors to read. I decided to give this one a try and it’s been on my e-reader for a couple of months. Dead Things exists within the urban fantasy genre, and if you don’t know what that means you’re not alone. In basic terms, urban fantasy gives you a world and setting that looks very much like our own but that setting is occupied by all the things that go bump in the night–vampires, werewolves, ghosts, and lots of other supernatural creatures. The setting for Dead Things is Los Angeles, and in some ways it has the feel of fantasy noir. Blackmoore doesn’t create a dark paranormal underbelly beneath the sun-drenched glitter of Los Angeles, but there is the potential to see his vision of Los Angeles evolve into that kind of world that you might expect from fantasy noir. Without further ado, here are my thoughts on the book in a different format I’m experimenting with for my reviews.
Is it part of a series? Yes. Dead Things is the first book in Blackmoore’s Eric Carter series. The next book in the series is Broken Souls and the third book, Hungry Ghosts was just released last week (February 2017). One note that might help in case you are interested in starting the series–there is a fourth book called City of Souls that takes place within the world of Eric Carter, but from everything I can find, it does not feature Eric Carter.
What is it about? Eric Carter is a mage and necromancer who receives news that his sister, Lucy, who he hasn’t seen in fifteen years, has been brutally murdered. He returns to Los Angeles to find the person responsible for her death and exact vengeance. Complicating his return to Los Angeles is the fact that he is a man going home again after fifteen years of being on his own and out of contact with everyone who had been in his life before. As the hunt for his sister’s murderer unfolds, Eric is also trying to decide if coming back home (and staying home) is a good idea, if it’s possible to reconnect with the people he left behind, and reconciling the man he is now with the person he was when he left everything behind.
Tell me more about the main character. Eric Carter is the kind of protagonist you would expect to find in a noir-ish urban fantasy novel. He is the isolated loner who has lived a nomadic life since he left Los Angeles, never settling down in one place and never thinking of any one place as home. He’s mad, bad and dangerous to know, street-smart, quick-thinking and smart-talking. He is a powerful necromancer, which means he can see and speak to the Dead, and though it takes a while for him to reveal this aspect of his character, it is the Dead that he helps and to some extent, saves. He considers himself to be one of the speakers for the dead, and he gets vengeance and retribution for them (and yes, some would call it justice). He is their champion and he understands them, a lot more than he understands the living. He also feels incredible guilt for leaving his sister and his friends behind when he left Los Angeles fifteen years ago. Dealing with that guilt and finding a way to make things right are two of the primary motivators for his character. In some ways, he’s like a lot of other male protagonists you find in this genre, but like the world of Los Angeles that Blackmoore presents, he has the potential to be more than average. In truth, he is only at the beginning of his journey, and though he has developed and undergone important changes by the time the story ends, there is lots of room for more growth and change.
What about the supporting cast? Tough question. In this novel, the supporting cast is comprised of Alex, the man who was his best friend and who looked after Eric’s sister after he left home. Vivian is Eric’s ex-girlfriend, who has become a doctor in the time that he’s been away and moved on to someone else. There is Tabitha, a waitress who works in the bar Alex owns and is a potential love interest. The two non-human characters are Darius–who seems to be some kind of genie or djinn perhaps–who owns a bar whose doors move and within which time moves at a different rate than that of the outside world, and Santa Muerte, a goddess who wants Eric to be her right hand assassin. I don’t want to spoil how the story ends but there will definitely be changes to this supporting cast in the next book. Eric’s interactions with the supporting characters say just as much about him as they do about the secondary characters themselves, particularly Alex and Vivian, the latter of which is drawn realistically, I think, but at the same time she grated on my goodwill as a reader.
What is the narrative style? I think this is an important aspect of the book to highlight because before reading Dead Things I started a different book that I put down after fifty pages because it was told in the narrative style I dislike the most–that being multiple point-of-view (and when I say multiple I mean from the perspective of three or more characters). Blackmoore takes the more traditional route in terms of narrative style and it will be familiar and comfortable to readers of the genre, choosing to tell the story solely from Eric’s first-person point of view. Another notable aspect of the narrative style is that it is told in the present tense which may feel different to readers who haven’t encountered this before, though I will say it is a style that seems to be growing in popularity.
Should I invest my time? Another tough question. One of the things that instantly came to mind while reading this book is that it has the same feel as the Sandman Slim books by Richard Kadrey (also set in Los Angeles, also noir-ish, also told in that present tense, first person narrative style). The Sandman Slim series is one of my favorites, and though I think the Eric Carter series could be as good, it’s not there yet. I don’t know what the next book in this series will bring. For me, the first book in a series should make me want to read the next book, if not right away then at least inspire me to immediately add it to my to-be-read list. I didn’t have that feeling at the end of Dead Things, and admittedly part of this may be due to the way the book ends, which is clearly setting up for the next installment. I think that if you like this genre, you should at least give the first book in this series a try and decide if you want more. Personally, there are so many books on my to-read list for the year that I don’t see myself adding Broken Souls to my reading list any time soon. Don’t get me wrong, I liked the book. I’m just not convinced I want to go back for more.