Saturday, May 23, 2015

Book Reviews: Die And Stay Dead

Die And Stay Dead
by Nicholas Kaufmann
This is installment two in what I believe to be a planned trilogy. The problem with a lot of middle books, whether they are in a trilogy or an even longer series is that they neither reflect the promise of the first book that introduced you to the author nor do they tie anything up, being too busy moving characters and events into place for the finale. Die and Stay Dead doesn't have that problem. Not in the least bit. It's about as hyperactive as the first book, Dying is my Business, reviewed here. But Die and Stay Dead also gives you some very important clues about both the past and future. It perhaps even reveals the secret of the hero's identity. Just to briefly recap, a man named Trent who doesn't know who he is or where he's from does odd jobs for a mob boss named Underwood. Trent seemingly can't die. If he ever does, then not soon after his corpse will steal the life force of whoever is unlucky enough to be closest to him and voila, Trent is resurrected. By the end of the first book, Trent discovered that there's someone behind Underwood who's been playing them both. Underwood is just (literally) a puppet. In book 2, Trent has broken free of Underwood's control as well as the person who was behind Underwood. He's a member of the Five Pointed Star, an X-Man like ragtag group of misfits and magicians who are struggling to limit the influence of magic and evil in the world. They're the good guys. Sadly, lately they're fighting a losing battle. There are more and more people infected with magic who are going off the deep end and causing harm to themselves and other people. Along with Trent, this group includes Bethany, a sorceress who might be only half-human and who also might have a thing for Trent, though they both deny it, the group leader Isaac, a powerful mage who is able to wield magic without becoming infected, something most people can't do, Phillip, a nigh indestructible vampire outcast who owes a debt of honor to Isaac, and Gabrielle, the lover and fiancee of the now deceased group member Thornton, a werewolf.

The  Five Pointed Star is doing its normal thing, chasing down and eliminating creatures infected with magic, when they stumble across what looks like a connection between one of their cases and a doomsday cult. As such cults are wont to do, this group tried and failed to bring about the end of the world by the classic method of summoning something they couldn't control. Snicker. You might ask yourself if megalomaniacal magicians shouldn't think twice before opening dimensional gates they might not be able to close. I mean how often does that really work out. But then again I suppose being megalomaniacal tends to warp your judgment a bit. You don't hear the words "No that's a bad idea." very often. And even if you did you'd ignore them because after all you're megalomaniacal. It's what you do.

Unfortunately, the cult leader, one Mr. Erickson Arkwright, survived the destruction of the group and is back for round two. All he has to do is find the missing pages of a magic tome so he can recast the spell. Obviously the Five Pointed Star can't be having that. They oppose Arkwright. Or they would if they could find him. Trent will also discover to his dismay that he's not the only member of the team with secrets. Trent is also a little more accepting of his powers in this story. Like the first book in the series, Die and Stay Dead is something that proceeds at a breakneck pace. It does this so much that instead of just reading the book during my criminally shortened lunch time I decided to skip watching a few movies to read this story, which given how much I like film, says something about the excitement and quality in this story. Speaking of film this story is just crying out to be translated into the visual medium. I'm imagining something that draws on Big Trouble in Little China, Angel Heart and National Treasure. There's a fair amount of humor which balances out the occasionally gruesome action. What's really the juicy sweet spot of this story isn't the various superpowered entities who seem to know who Trent is or even Trent's increasingly strong and desperate need to know his identity but rather the author's envisioning of New York City as a special, magical and very old place. As the team races for clues across and below NYC, Kaufmann weaves a pretty compelling mystery story. You may become intrigued and fascinated by old monuments and statues in your own home town. What secrets do they hold. What events have they witnessed. If you live in or are a native of NYC this book will have a lot of treats for you. I did like how some characters, for both benign and fell purposes, realized that Trent's weak spot is his desire to know who he is. In some areas of the city Trent has an almost overpowering sense of deja vu. He can almost remember something..but then he can't.

I was (despite what seems like a definitive reveal of Trent's true nature late in the book) briefly still wondering if it was a head fake. There are more than a few pieces to some character arcs that haven't fallen completely into place yet. Or maybe I just missed them. I liked reading this book because it was like solving a puzzle. I quickly identified some characters who weren't playing on the level, so to speak but a few others didn't make my spidey-sense tingle until it was too late. The book's only drawback is that the action really doesn't ever stop. It's similar to some of Simon Green's early work. The book might run a tad long. It ends on a cliffhanger. I am very interested to see what happens next. Although I think you will enjoy Die and Stay Dead more if you read the first book, Dying is My Business, strictly speaking it's not necessary to have done so. This is a very good example of urban fantasy so if you are into that genre or just happen to like mysteries, this is a book you ought to be reading. 
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