Tim Powers,
Expiration Date
(Tor, 1996; Orb, 2007)

I didn't think Tim Powers could top his award-winning novel Last Call, but I was wrong. Expiration Date is a sequel of sorts, but only in the most roundabout way. It takes place in Los Angeles and makes use of some of the minor characters featured in Last Call in fresh, thought-provoking ways.

Koot Hoomie Parganas is being prepared by his parents to assume the Fisher King position, but Kootie just wants to be a normal kid. As a sort of childish retribution, he breaks open the bust of Dante that his parents are just nuts about and steals the glass vial inside. The vial contains the ghost of Thomas Alva Edison. Kootie unknowingly opens the vial and inhales the ghost, but can't consume it.

Consuming ghosts, thus reliving their lives and adding years to one's own life, is a fashionable pastime in Los Angeles. Ghost-hunters across the city are aware that a "big one" is loose -- and all of them are willing to kill Kootie to get it.

Meanwhile, Pete Sullivan has his own problems. His twin sister calls just before committing suicide and warns him that their old boss is after him. Pete heads to L.A. to track down DeLarava, his stepmother, and keep her from finally getting his father's ghost.

The ghost business doesn't end there. Angelica Elizalde, a former psychiatrist, comes back to L.A. to put old ghosts to rest (pardon the pun). She feels responsible for a client's death during a seance and needs to make amends to his family.

Combine these startlingly different characters and motivations with Powers' deft writing and sense of pacing, and you've got one dark, disturbing fantasy novel. Powers' knowledge of ghost-lore is boundless; I didn't doubt for a second that he'd gotten his facts right. The sheer inventiveness of the story will keep you reading late into the night. The characters are strong and well-developed, and the writing is first-rate. Powers has a true knack for creating strangely disturbing situations and still finding something funny in them -- at several points I found myself laughing out loud and reading passages to my boyfriend.

Expiration Date is a fantastic read; Powers is steadily setting high standards in the field of contemporary fantasy.

[ by Audrey M. Clark ]

Buy it from Amazon.com.