Morning me hearties. Today we will journey together into the depths of the human soul…face deep philosophical musings about our very existence…question everything we know about what happens after death…and talk about a really cool book I just read. It’s book number one in a new series and it’s called The Terminals: Spark by Michael F. Stewart. I received a digital copy for review from the publisher via Netgalley – thanks! After that, we’ll examine in close detail why it’s never been more important to get your teeth checked regularly, preferably by a Mormon dentist, with Extreme Dentistry by Hugh A. D. Spencer. I also received a digital copy of this one for review from the publisher via Netgalley – again, thanks!
But let’s begin with death, shall we, and work our way up to the far more frightening world of dentistry.
The Terminals begins with a death. Well, a lot of deaths really, as we are first introduced to Christine Kurzow – Lieutenant Colonel in the US Army, recent accidental “murderer” of eleven of her unit’s finest, and even more recent suicide attemptee. On her almost-deathbed, Christine is coerced into joining a secret government unit known as the Terminals, made up of terminally ill soldiers who are being kept alive in order to die at the right moment. Working with the Terminals is Atilla, a young psychic who can form a connection with the soldiers after they embark on their final mission to glean important information from criminals, terrorists, secret-keepers and others who have also passed on. Essentially, those in the Terminals elect to die in order to chase unsavoury characters into a given religion’s afterlife in order to …persuade…them to spill the beans on where they hid the body, when exactly that bomb they hid is going to explode, or where they left the car keys. Okay, maybe not that last one.
Just as Christine is brought into the unit, Hillar the Killer, a prolific serial killer who has stashed eleven (still living) children away somewhere meets an untimely demise. The race is now on to find Hillar in the (Gnostic) afterlife and get him to give up the secret of the children’s whereabouts before their time runs out. And after that….well, things get a bit complicated. Do you have the ticker to jump in with the Terminals and ride this mystery out until the bitter, blood-splattered, eyeball-dangling end? Yes, I thought you might.
* you like your fiction filled with action…blood-splattered, eyeball-dangling, retch-inducing action
* you like your murder mysteries filled with the reckless pursuit of justice … and the promise of criminals being pursued even after they’re dead
* you like your paranormal filled with philosophical and ethical conundrums…like whether commiting suicide to chase a criminal into the afterlife to potentially save some children is more or less worthy than living out a few extra months of a terminal illness because…well, you quite enjoy breathing
Now for some reason, despite the look of the cover and the tone of the blurb, I was under the misconception that this book would be funny. I have no clue why I assumed that. Sure, there are some funny bits, but this is mostly a gritty, complex novel that has lots of layers. There’s lots of action and violence, there’s a bit of philoshopy and religious debate, there’s ethical conundrums a-plenty, there’s romance (well, sex), crochety old bastards with dubious moral standards, gods and hells and pain and suffering, and there’s eyeballs. On strings. So you can tick that one off if it happens to be on your list of must-haves in your crime/murder mystery fiction.
This was a lot darker than a lot of the fiction I usually read, so while I was engaged throughout the book, I don’t think I’ll be going back for the next in the series. Nevertheless, I thoroughly enjoyed this book because the premise is so different. The paranormal aspect of the book allows for a whole range of
afterlifes afterlives religious theories about life after death (or the absence of the same) to be explored and delved into. The coupling of paranormal with what is essentially a murder mystery (not so much of a whodunnit, but a wherewasitdun) through world-building rather than through giving a character a particular power or gift is something that I haven’t come across before. For those who read a lot of either crime or paranormal books, I think this will provide plenty of new fodder for the collective imagination.
One of the best aspects of the book is the way the author shifts the perspectives with each chapter so that the reader really gets a good chance to take in as much of both the paranormal and crime elements as possible. In some chapters we get taken along with Christine as she attempts to make sense of her own life (or lack of it) and her efforts to find the missing children before it’s too late. In other chapters we are dumped into the afterlives of various religions, following terminal agents as they try and get the information the unit needs. It breaks up the book nicely and allows time for the reader to decompress between reveals so as not to suffer from plot twist overload. It also provides a nice balance between the spiritual/paranormal and mundane action, so as to avoid becoming too much of one or the other.
Overall this book has a great new twist on your standard crime novel and I think it will appeal greatly to readers of crime fiction who are looking for something different that will leave them with something to think about long after the crime has been solved.
The Terminals: Spark was published on April 15 by Non Sequiter Press.
Now onto the really frightening topic – festering gum infections!
Extreme Dentistry follows the recent life experiences of one Arthur Percy, lapsed Canadian Mormon, as he undergoes some fairly major dental surgery and in the process, becomes acquainted with a race of parasitic alien beings sharing communal intelligence. This exciting new race of predators is known as the Hive, and appear to latch onto their victims through the sharing of bodily contact. After experiencing toothache of quite spectacular proportions, Arthur, through his new (non-lapsed Mormon) dentist Cal, discovers that he has been exposed to the alien race. From this point forth, things get a bit weird, and it is up to Arthur, Cal and a range of other alien-whomping Mormons (and others, on a need-to-know basis) to take on the Hive and take back humanity’s retail and consumer outlets.
* you believe that the only reasonable explanation for the exhorbitant fees charged by your dentist is that s/he is not merely placing a filling in that molar, but also protecting you from invasion by parasitic, shape-shifting, mind-absorbing aliens
* you are a Mormon (lapsed or otherwise), and were hitherto unaware of the role your church has been playing in the fight to keep humanity for the humans
* you like your tea warm, your beer cold and your science fiction utterly and completely bizarre
This was undoubtedly a weird reading experience. I requested this one because the blurb sounded both hilarious and reasonably believable and on both counts the book has acquited itself quite well. This is my first encounter with Spencer’s writing and I’ve got to say he knows how to keep you reading. For some reason I couldn’t put this book down even though I had a hard time managing the format (which I’ll get to in a bit) and there were big chunks of the book that had me wondering about their relevancy to the overall plot. More than halfway into the book I still only had a vague notion of what was really going on. There were a number of sections in which I thought to myself, “Hang on, why am I being treated to (for example) an outline of the basic tenets of Mormonism?” And yet I kept reading because even though I couldn’t see where these bits were going…they were pretty interesting nonetheless! That’s got to be a mark of good writing.
So there are a few elements to this book that some people will love and others will hate. Foremost amongst these is the use of multiple time periods and multiple points of view to tell the story. The first bit of the book jumps around from Arthur’s experiences in various bits of the 1980s and 1990s as well as the time in which the story is currently unfolding. About the first third of the book is told solely from Arthur’s point of view, and then without warning Cal is introduced as a co-narrator and from that point forward the story jumps back and forth between Cal and Arthur. We’re also treated to a bit of Cal’s back story too, so there is a remarkable amount of jumping around and for some readers this may be enough to give up on the story, because in certain parts it can be quite difficult to follow who’s who and what’s what.
On the other hand, the book is funny, the premise is certainly attention-grabbing and the main characters are likeable, distinctive and fun to hang out with. So I suppose that overall, this one is going to appeal to fans of Spencer’s work first and foremost, and then also to those who like a funny read that has lots of weird twists, a bit of rumpy pumpy, some treatises on the development of the modern shopping mall and a lot about Mormonism. I suspect that I shouldn’t recommend this to Mormons (lapsed or otherwise) unless they’ve got a decent sense of humour.
Extreme Dentistry was published on April 4th by Patchwork Press.
Until next time,