Monday, October 03, 2011

Horrified, yet still strangely enthralled

A book.

An old book actually. Yellowed pages. The dry, musty smell of old parchment. A weathered cover of leatherlike material with more than its fair share of cracks. When I reached out to trace it with the tip of my finger, something strange happened.

The book shifted beneath my touch, as if trying to escape.

I yanked my hand back in surprise.

I stared at the book in a kind of sick fascination, the way one stared at a bad traffic accident, disgust and horror mingling with a deep-seated need to see, to understand, to know just how bad it was.

Tentatively, I reach out again.

This time the cover yielded slightly to my touch but didn't pull away. Maybe I'd just imagined it. Something still didn't feel right, though. The book was warm, pliable, like a living thing rather than an inanimate object.

I half expected to hear it breathing.

Horrified, yet still strangely enthralled, I gently pushed the cover open.

Eyes to See, by Joseph Nassise, is a bit weird. I can't say I've read anything quite like it before. It's broadly classified as "fantasy" (according to the promo notes) but pulls elements together from various (sub)genres. There are ghosts, a witch (who performs magic), a berserker, a demonic ritual, an old manuscript, serial killings. And Jeremiah Hunt, a near-blind man who sees ghosts.

Jeremiah gained this special sight in his efforts to track down his daughter, who was abducted from his home. Years later, the police have stopped looking. His wife left a long time ago. He makes a living as a ghostbuster, relying on seeing and interacting with ghosts, tactically possessing and/or being possessed by them. Oh, and, the dead can see emotions. Occasionally, the cops call on him for help, although they don't know the precise nature of how Hunt comes to his "intuitions" about their criminal situations.

On this particular police case, a couple seemingly ritualistic murders, his background as a classics professor even comes into play.

Drawing on all these different traditions, the book had potential, I thought — a crazy energy. But ultimately, the world-building was weak, falling into the trap of telling not showing (including a completely irrelevant explanation by Jeremiah of the different classes of ghost — apparitions, spectres, poltergeists, etc — which is doubly ridiculous once we learn how ignorant he is of the supernatural world), and trying to be too many things for its own good.

The tone, especially the dialogue, in trying for a clipped noir-ish feel sounds laughably repetitive and predictable. Also, the narration's switching in perspective is needlessly disorienting, and there are continuity errors.

The plot was engaging enough that I had to see how the story ended, but I don't see myself picking up Jeremiah Hunt's further chronicles.


[I read this book as part of RIP VI. While this novel fits all the criteria to be the perfect creepy lead-up read to Halloween, the writing is more horrific than the story, and its quality makes it the most disappointing book I've read all year.]

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