INTO THE LIGHT
The premise behind this urban fantasy novel is a bit different from the normal paranormal or supernatural tale. Our main protagonist, Charlotte “Charley” Davidson, is a Grim Reaper. Since the very day of her birth, she has been the Light that the spirits of the dead seek out in order to pass on to the next plane of existence. But not every spirit is eligible for her services. Her abilities are strictly for those souls who refuse to pass on or who have business to finish with the living, such as exacting justice for their murders.
Since this novel is the first in a series, a great deal of its content is engaged in establishing the world of a Grim Reaper in the eyes of the reader. We learn, within just a few pages, that Charley is a private investigator to both the living and the dead. We find out that not only can she see the spirits of the dead, she can talk to them and even touch them. We learn that she has a very protective and lethal guardian spirit that she calls Big Bad. And we learn that she has a enigmatic and taciturn dream lover by the name of Reyes Farrow.
The author provides, and expounds on, this information through the first person POV of Charley. She creates a character who has a chip on her shoulder the size of a tree trunk and who has a sharp and snarky conversational style. In fact, her verbal interactions with others often go far beyond snark into a range that can only be considered rude and brutal.
But before you toss this book, thinking that the main protagonist is simply a character that is too self-involved and hostile to like, remember that the author has made her a Grim Reaper since the day she was born. Her nature gives her a total recall of all passings and the ghosts are as real to her and as clear to her sight as are the living.
So when you stop to consider these concepts from the standpoint of a child, such as a playful preschooler, a different image forms of Charley. Young children do not have well-developed filters, hence the old saw “Out of the mouths of babes…” Therefore, as a child innocently telling her family and others what she could so clearly see and than so innocently talking to and hugging “thin air,” she came to be thought of as “crazy.” Then, on one particularly horrendous occasion, her childlike, innocent, honest and public revelations caused someone irreparable harm. And from that day, at the age of 5 years old, she became a pariah. So, sheer survival demanded that snarky, hostile, bitter, brutal and non-trusting become the norm with the living.
Darynda Jones does a magnificent job of establishing Charley’s world. The quotes at the beginning of each chapter are both hilarious and apropos to scene under development. The author uses two cases that Charley is currently working on as the vehicle for introducing us to Charley’s abilities and to the nature and importance of her guardian spirit. The two cases, a domestic abuse situation and the murder of three lawyers from the same firm on the same night, are handled with realism. The author does not relegate these cases to background filler. Nor does she spare us the violence. This may be an urban fantasy but it is not a “cozy” one. Think Jeaniene Frost, but with spirits instead of vampires.
Cover Art from Goodreads