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The Hexed by Heather Graham

August 4, 2014 3 comments

The-Hexed-Krewe-of-Hunters--792856-4ee88c2c49f432a4595b

The Hexed by Heather Graham (Harlequin Mira, 2014) is the lucky thirteenth in the Krewe of Hunters series. It starts with Craig Rockwell as a young man with his first experience of having a ghost talk to him. As a result of what she says, he finds her dead body. This diverts him from a possible career as a football player and into law enforcement. Now, thirteen years later, he’s well-established in the FBI and applying for transfer to the Krewe of Hunters because another body has turned up in his home town. It’s been laid out in exactly the same way as the body he found. Needless to say, the Krewe has done its homework on this man and his application for a transfer is accepted. This sends him back to the Salem area (and into danger of romantic entanglement). As he drives into town, he almost knocks down Devin Lyle, the joint heroine and romantic interest. Remember that no coincidence should appear on its own, so she’s just discovered another body (it’s the same signature so the couple are already on the right track) and she can see ghosts too (in magical terms, three coincidences is a charm). And, yes, this is the third body with the Pentagram Killer’s signature! With the triple stars in alignment, it can’t be long before this pair are a couple.

And what better news than this is my third book by this author! Thematically, we have this specialist group of people recruited to an FBI unit to deal with the more serious crimes where it’s difficult to get a result. They beat the usual systems for investigation because they can talk with ghosts. For this to work as a plot device, all the victims they interview must, for some reason, have failed to see their killer(s). They may be shot from a distance by a sniper, or attacked from behind, or poisoned by anyone who had access to their food out of sight, and so on. This leaves the field open for a classical police procedural with a supernatural twist. I actually like the formula because there’s little artificiality about the interaction between the sensitives and the ghosts. The relationships are almost exactly the same as human to human and, as in the real world, the ghosts are just as unreliable as human witnesses. The result is marginally more information available to the investigators than might otherwise have been the case, but there’s still a need for proper investigative skills. The second in the series, however, was overburdened with history that was dispensed in fairly indigestible lumps as spiels to tourists on a ghost walk. Indeed, this book threatens to go the same way with one dollop of information thrust at us in the same way. However, all the other history which is relevant (and a surprising amount is for the solution of this puzzle) is more carefully parcelled out as discussion, extracts from history books, and so on. It’s relatively more acceptable in this format. Because we’re in Salem, we’re deeply into the history of witchcraft and the way in which the trials were manipulated to protect the reputation of the men and dispose of women who could make their lives difficult. It’s a very interesting way to show how deeply entrenched misogyny has been in the American psyche.

Heather Graham

Heather Graham

From the outset, the book sets out to make Devin as talented as the formal members of the Krewe. She’s quickly talking with Aunt Mina, her recently deceased relative, and preparing to hobnob with those who died centuries ago. Once you get into the groove, all ghosts prepared to talk to you are the same. Of course, some ghosts of choosy and decide they want nothing to do with some humans. If approached by the wrong type, they just disappear. It’s a useful talent I wish I’d developed for use at social gatherings. Anyway, through a combination of dreams, discussions with the dead, and human intuition, our team narrows the pool of suspects to a relatively small number who have recently bought a weapon of the right type, have some connection to “witches” (both current and historical), and who may drive dark-coloured SUVs. Then it’s down to trying to check alibis both thirteen years ago and now. No-one is excluded as the net is thrown out across that part of Salem society which traces its roots back to the days of the original trials and may have an interest in Wiccan or other non-standard supernatural beliefs. When it comes in a dramatic climax, the answer is rather pleasing.

Although three ghosts do play a moderately important role in the solution of this serial murder case, the supernatural profile is slightly lower in this book than the other two I’ve read. Since the basis of the series is the expanding group of ghost whisperers, there have to be ghosts for them to talk to. In this instalment, I think the balance between conventional police procedural and supernatural is about right. Of course this requires a better quality of puzzle for the main players to solve and, again, this book has a good puzzle. My only gripe is not so much the romance which is within reasonable bounds, but the extent of the coincidence that Devin turns out to be not only a natural whisperer, but also an investigator who gets to the right answers. Rather than watching two relatively inexperienced whisperers solve the crime(s), it would be more interesting to see how the experienced approach the investigation of one of these crimes. I suppose this would also throw off the mandatory thriller ending when our hero suddenly finds herself in serious trouble and has to be rescued. In theory, the experienced investigators make the collar and retire to the nearest drinking establishment for several glasses of appropriate spirits. So I report The Hexed as being a good example of these romance-tinged supernatural police procedurals.

For review of two other in the series, see:
The Cursed
The Night Is Forever.

A copy of this book was sent to me for review.

The Cursed by Heather Graham

April 15, 2014 2 comments

The Cursed by Heather Graham

Well having found the last book in this series interesting, I decided to have a look at the next. And now a brief defensive note lest any of my regular readers begin to worry I may be diluting my male prejudices. I’m just exploring whether the last book was the exception that proves the rule, or maybe whether I have to make a more permanent exception for this author. The Cursed by Heather Graham (Harlequin Mira, 2014) is the twelfth in the Krewe of Hunters series. So let’s start with a word about the prose. This falls into my classification of easy readability. In other words, without being showy, it offers a direct and transparent means of delivering the narrative. As a feature, this is both good and less so. Because there’s no extraneous content, the success of the book depends on the quality of the plot. Other authors set out to distract their readers with more interesting vocabulary choices and flowery detail in the descriptions. With one component I’ll come back to later, this is a blend of supernatural, police procedural, thriller and romance — note I’m not classifying it as an urban fantasy for all it has ghosts, nor is it really a paranormal romance. As with the last in the series, it breaks the mould of police procedurals by having the FBI quietly set up a special unit comprising those who are able to interact with ghosts. With access to first-hand evidence derived from the victims and other ghosts who have witnessed events, the members of this unit have one of the best clearance rates in the FBI.

You may protest this is a form of cheating, but the plots are deliberately shaped so that the ghosts can be helpful but not give whodunnit information the moment they are asked. All a victim can say is the murderer came up from behind, or was wearing a mask, or was using a rifle from long range, etc. So, for example, this book sees a woman diver killed in a wreck. After death, all she can say is that her attacker was a large male and had blue eyes (obviously that’s all she can see through the face mask, the breathing apparatus hiding the lower face and the wetsuit hiding the shape and colour of the hair). This leaves a lot of work to be done by FBI officers in the real world — statistically there are a lot of large men with blue eyes.

Heather Graham

Heather Graham

So this time around, we’re with Hannah O’Brien, who grew up in a house in Key West and now runs it as a B&B. Like her cousin Kelsey O’Brien who’s a member of the FBI’s Krewe of Hunters, Hannah can also see and talk with ghosts. Indeed, she may actually be better at it than Kelsey. To distinguish her B&B from the mass of competitors, she advertises the presence of ghosts living in her house and offers tours around the area where she takes in all the local haunted places, plying all with details of the sometimes gruesome events that led to creation of the ghosts. This brings me to the one feature of this book that I find less than satisfying. Even though it’s relevant to the way she makes her living and, more importantly, does add background to the reason why the villain is stalking her, there’s a considerable amount of historical material. So we get to hear quite long excerpts from her spiel to paying customers on her tour, and there’s considerable information about her family and a possible connection with a long-lost box thought to contain a great treasure.

Anyway, the threat to all and sundry comes from Los Lobos, an evocatively named group of criminals who are into a range of activities including smuggling, drug distribution and murder. The key distinguishing feature to this gang is the cell structure. No-one knows more than one or two others, and people routinely use nicknames, making it difficult for anyone to reveal anything too damaging should they be caught by the police. There’s also significant paranoia among the group members because the leader, Wolf, is notorious for ordering the death of anyone even vaguely suspected of disloyalty or showing less than full competence in discharging the duties allocated. The FBI was congratulating itself on finally getting an undercover officer into the gang, but he turns up dead in Hannah’s back yard. This brings FBI agent Dallas Samson into view and, before long, he and Hannah convert mutual interest into sexual activity. In other words, there’s nothing really coy about the romance in this book. There are the usual misunderstandings. Once we get past those, there’s no real courtship. They are adults thrown together by circumstance. They enjoy each other’s company and quickly expect to remain a couple.

There’s plenty of action which fulfills the thriller requirement admirably. The FBI and local police pick up suspects with satisfying regularity which keeps the information flowing. This just leaves the mystery element as the usual trail of breadcrumbs albeit, once you get the analysis of the disposable phone records, it’s obvious what the answer must be. Fortunately, this comes quite near the end which just gives us the chance for more shots to be fired — no explosions in this book — and everything gets wrapped up ready for the next in the series. On balance, the quality of the plot is not as good as in the last book but there are many redeeming features. Indeed, had there been less history, I would have been really enthusiastic. As it is, I’m not dismissing Heather Graham. There’s just enough about The Cursed to justify having a look at the next in the series.

For reviews of others in the series, see:
The Hexed
The Night Is Forever.

A copy of this book was sent to me for review.

The Night Is Forever by Heather Graham

September 15, 2013 Leave a comment

The Night Is Forever by Heather Graham

The Night Is Forever by Heather Graham (Harlequin Mira, 2013) Krewe of Hunters 11, is set at the Horse Farm, a therapy centre west of Nashville. It was founded by Marcus Danby and Olivia Gordon works there as a therapist. Marcus was the rich son who fell from grace and then recovered through his love of horses. He set up the centre to help others. Now he’s dead. Apparently it was caused by drugs. He fell into a ravine while high. Except the staff members of the centre don’t believe it. So Olivia calls her cousin in the FBI and, without alerting the local police, a special FBI Krewe unit recruits Dustin Blake to go undercover and find out what really happened. Dustin and the others in the Krewe have supernatural abilities. This is potentially useful when you want to find out how someone died. All you need do is ask the ghost. Except, of course, it isn’t that simple. Olivia may be a ghost magnet, able to attract and talk with ghosts, an ability she shares with Dustin. Yet it’s not wholly controllable. And it’s only useful if the ghost actually knows whodunnit. In this case, the killer came from behind so the ghost is not a reliable witness. It’s tough when you find you have unresolved issues on Earth. It stops you from going toward the light.

It has been something of a revelation to read this. Yes, my apologies: another of my somewhat naive statements. So here come the required words of explanation. This is my first look at the writing phenomenon that is Heather Graham. She’s a prolific author, primarily focusing on romantic fiction. As a mere male and having no shame, I admit to never having heard of her. To make this worse, I confess to being inexperienced when it comes to labelling a book like this so I’ll approximate with “paranormal romance mystery with thriller elements”. It takes Ghost Whisperer to a different place with the FBI solving crimes which helps the ghosts cross over (or not, as the case may be). I’m more usually involved with supernatural books which set out to thrill or chill. This somewhat demystifies the reader’s experience by allowing the FBI agents with the right abilities to interview ghosts in exactly the same way they would live witnesses. Indeed, it’s fairly disconcerting to be confronted with this supernatural phenomenon as routine normality. It require a recalibration of reaction.

Heather Graham

Heather Graham

Under the circumstances, I’m going to ignore the supernatural and romantic elements. It seems to me that “books like this” stand or fall on the strength of the mystery plot. No matter where the evidence comes from, there has to be a murder with no immediately clear suspect(s) in sight. The investigator reacts to the unfolding drama by interviewing all the relevant people, reviewing the evidence and then catching the killer(s). Obviously I can’t call this a police procedural although the FBI does eventually set up a formal liaison with the local law. Equally, it’s not an amateur sleuth or PI novel. It’s not even a classic “undercover” operation because several local people immediately understand what’s going on and react both positively and negatively to our hero’s arrival. This creates thriller opportunities with threats to Olivia and, later, a second death. On this front, I’m pleased to report this is a meticulously plotted mystery. In every respect, the author has gone out of her way to detail where everyone appears to be at each point in time, and to what extent third party sightings confirm appearances. It’s a very pleasing book because, insofar as any mysteries do, this plays fair with the reader. Even the ghosts get in on the act and either cannot see their killer or can only see someone wearing camouflage. The whodunnit is there to be worked out if you invest the effort.

I’m therefore able to confirm The Night Is Forever as unusual by my standards — I should read more fiction aimed at the female market — but very good. Even the romance element is kept within reasonable limits and avoids the more excessive sappiness that alienates elderly male readers like myself. So, if female readers of these reviews are prepared to act on the recommendation of a mere man, this is well worth reading. Even men are likely to find the mystery worth solving, assuming they can, of course.

For review of others in the series, see:
The Cursed
The Hexed

A copy of this book was sent to me for review.

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