Kathryn Mackel,
The Departed
(West Bow, 2005)

Joshua Lazarus, stage magician, and his wife Maggie, his stage assistant, are looking for fame and fortune. Maggie is a little uncomfortable when they actually find it. Joshua tires of his magician act and by a series of coincidences starts up a successful medium business and television show. He makes one woman utterly happy and one man angry enough to provoke serious revenge.

A lonely film star is comforted by Joshua's new act, which appears to let "the departed" through the gate to contact their loved ones. Joshua himself is startled by some of the messages arriving in his mind. Does he really have such an attribute? Is it something inside himself, or is it Sola, a deity of the gate, guiding him?

Maggie gets pushed into the background of Joshua's life and has no part to play in his new business. A greedy manager and a controlling sister don't seem to make Joshua the least uncomfortable, and sometimes the closeness he and Maggie share seems more forced than real. He's a bit of a dud, even though he's supposed to be handsome and charismatic -- all show, but little for brains and a slackness of morals. Maggie appears to be the stronger character of the two.

Amy Howland runs a children's rec centre that is threatened by a group similar to devil worshippers who need her house to finish a worship circle. They pile curses on her and her work. Their leader builds fear but at the same time seems spiritually powerless and his followers are childishly eerie. The only damage they cause is through normal physical means.

There is a rush of characters in the beginning chapters of this book. The unconnected groups make a bit of memory work for the reader at first. As the story moves along it gets easier to keep a running tab of who's who because of vastly different story situations and scenes.

For some strange reason, it works. There are aspects of the plot and the story that singled out are questionable, like a children's' rec centre in the middle of a neighbourhood of devil worshippers, and there are so many characters that pop in and out, and yet, the there is a distinct edge of terror and chills that assaults you as you read.

I've never read a Christian chiller before. Some characters were preachers, but more were questioners. Some were evil, but more were ordinary people. The story was full of action; the characters were full of human flaws, and location descriptions were more than ordinary.

It's a modern tale, bursting with story and action; sometimes it moved faster than I could follow as characters appeared and returned. Some of the writing seemed condensed at times, perhaps in order to make room for all this action and the sub-plots.

But the most intriguing aspect of the book was what made it a chiller. It wasn't overly gory or horrific even with its eerie, dark characters. But what keeps you on the edge is your own imagination. How cleverly this author uses that, enhancing your fears until they become a layer of the story. Even if you know it's happening, this can be truly chilling.

Soft-cover, easy print, interesting characters, unusual twists and turns, and more story than lesson -- a different genre and I think a difficult genre to write well in. The Departed was an entertaining read. It kept me awake at night ... at least until I finished it.

by Virginia MacIsaac
5 November 2005

Buy it from Amazon.com.