Review: Dead Things
A few pages into Stephen Blackmoore’s DEAD THINGS (Amazon) I realized I would want to start reading the sequel immediately after finishing so I took a risk and ordered BROKEN SOULS (Amazon). Having finished DEAD THINGS I now recognize this was a wise decision. Yay me! Based off the cover alone my eyes would have likely skipped past this novel on a store shelf — there’s nothing wrong with it but there are a hundred trillion other urban fantasy novels with Christian McGrath covers and who has the time to sift through them all? Thankfully, DEAD THINGS comes with a recommendation by M.L. Brennan, whose American Vampire series turns me into a squealing fangirl. I enjoy Brennan’s work because she diverges from the typical hard-boiled style urban fantasy. I enjoyed Blackmoore’s novel because he embraces it with aplomb.
Here’s the Amazon description: Necromancer is such an ugly word, but it’s a title Eric Carter is stuck with. He sees ghosts, talks to the dead. He’s turned it into a lucrative career putting troublesome spirit to rest, sometimes taking on even more dangerous things. For a fee, of course. When he left LA fifteen years ago, he thought he’d never go back. Too many bad memories. Too many people trying to kill him. But now his sister’s been brutally murdered and Carter wants to find out why. Was it the gangster looking to settle a score? The ghost of a mage he killed the night he left town? Maybe it’s the patrion saint of violent death herself, Santa Muerte, who’s taken an unusually keen interest in him. Carter’s going to find out who did it, and he’s going to make them pay. As long as they don’t kill him first.
DEAD THINGS is a real bastard of a novel. It’s edgy, it’s gritty, it’s bloody. It’s a story about a necromancer that doesn’t shy away from the black part of black magic. It’s a suitably grim detective story with lots of color (mostly shades of grey) and a hell of a kick. Blackmoore succeeds in blending urban fantasy and noir in a way that many authors try and few accomplish. I’ve finally got the novel I originally expected of Richard Kadrey’s SANDMAN SLIM (EBR Review), with a badass anti-hero who has seen a lot and done a whole lot worse.
Eric Carter is a necromancer. To say he’s damaged goods would be an understatement. In a world where those with magical aptitude are notoriously narcissistic, Eric takes the cake. He’s an angry young man with a whole lot of power and life he can’t stop running away from — even if that means associating primarily with the dead. In other words he’s the perfect noir protagonist: cynical, fatalistic, and morally ambiguous. He comes with a nasty bag of tricks and he’s not afraid to use it. I suspect Eric Carter would get far in an urban fantasy cage match.
Hard-boiled though he may be, Eric is also vulnerable. He left L.A. to protect those he cares about from harm. Only problem is they don’t see it that way — Eric abandoned them. But Eric isn’t back in L.A. to make good with those he’s wronged, he has returned to investigate the brutal murder of his sister and avenge her death. When I say brutal murder I mean absolutely freaking brutal. The investigation takes him all over the seedy underbelly of the city searching for answers to questions he’s afraid to even ask. Eric even takes a journey to Mictlan, the underworld of Aztec mythology, a version of hell that’s especially fitting for Los Angeles.
Along the way Eric encounters old friends and enemies. He receives the help of his old friend Alex and his ex-girlfriend Vivian. Once a petty con, Alex is now a respectable business owner who has personally seen to Eric’s responsibilities in his absence. Vivian, a magician whose talents lie in healing the living, is now a doctor. Then of course there’s the crime boss that scared Eric away in the first place, and he’s curious to see why Eric made a return. Eric also comes into contact with the patron saint of violent death, Santa Muerte, and if ever there was a deity you wanted to avoid the attention of it’s Santa Muerte. Eric takes a beating along the way, both physical and emotional but he can give as good as he gets.
Blackmoore thrusts readers into a world of violence and necromancy and it’s awesome! The magic system of DEAD THINGS is especially well executed. Magic is dangerous and has a cost. Different locations have different magical flavors — L.A. has a distinct taste. Eric can talk to the dead but that doesn’t necessarily mean that the dead have much worth saying. There are limits to what can and cannot be done but Blackmoore never trots out a rule book and bludgeons readers with the mechanics of it all and yet it all has a logical application. Eric has a trick with a Sharpie marker and an adhesive name tag that I found especially useful.
DEAD THINGS is a devilishly good read. Blackmoore’s tight, clipped prose and dark wit bring Eric Carter to life, and his portrayal of L.A. is morbidly enchanting. This is urban fantasy noir at its best. I am so glad I ordered BROKEN SOULS in advance because once I finish typing up this review I’m picking up where DEAD THINGS left off.
- Recommended Age: 16+
- Language: Oh yeah, there's some profanity
- Violence: It's a pretty violent and gruesome read
- Sex: It's referenced though nothing explicit