Kat Richardson,
(Roc, 2006)

Harper Blaine has the potential to stand out from the crowd in the ever-expanding field of modern paranormal fiction. But in her first novel, written by newcomer Kat Richardson, she sinks into the ordinary.

Paranormal fiction is packed to the rafters with vampires and, to a lesser extent, lycanthropes. So I was pleased to start Greywalker, in which the heroine has something different; she's not undead or demonic, nor does she suffer monthly spurts of teeth and fur. After a vicious beating, private investigator Blaine dies, but comes back -- and the experience leaves her with the ability to peer into and move through the Grey, the otherworld that separates the living and the dead.

Instantly her clientele shifts as the news of her change spreads, for Harper has the potential to be a great advocate for -- or threat to -- the undead world.

But the promise of this novel fails to materialize, for several reasons. For one thing, the book quickly falls in line with the norm, filling the character list with -- you guessed it -- vampires. There's a ghost or two, sure, but this is largely another vampire novel. It was too much to hope that the Grey would lead somewhere new. (Of course, since Harper no doubt has read all those novels, too, she shows little hesitation in dealing with vampires on a close and regular basis.)

Also, Harper's credulity is a little too pat; she accepts her new powers far too easily for easy swallowing. So, too, do those around her; maybe everyone in Harper's world reads paranormal fiction, so the sudden realization that vampires and ghosts do exist doesn't catch anyone offguard.

And, for the brief moment in which Harper questions her sanity, she meets probably the only doctor in the world who wouldn't place her under immediate observation for her claims; instead, he sends her off to meet a pair of occult experts, one of whom is a witch, both of whom know far too much about this supposedly brand-new power Harper has.

But at least these two helpful characters get enough attention to become three-dimensional in Harper's world; the villains -- and there are a lot of them -- do not have that luxury. None spend enough time on the page to make more than a passing acquaintance with readers, and yet we're supposed to find them terrifying nonetheless. It doesn't work. And it doesn't help that much of Richardson's dialogue sounds flat, as if written for an oldstyle radio play instead of a modern novel.

And finally, because paranormal fiction cannot survive these days without romance, it seems, Richardson has injected a love interest for Harper who, frankly, plays no role in the story and wouldn't be missed if he vanished. It feels like he was added to the story near the end of the process, simply because Richardson (or her agent or publisher) felt there should be some romance.

If that all sounds fairly negative -- well, yeah, I guess it mostly is. But that doesn't mean I've given up hope on Harper or Kat. Harper needs to quit whining and start reasserting the tough, action-oriented persona that impressed me in the very first scene, when she took a beating but kept on kicking to the bloody, bitter end. And the author has to flesh out her characters more and polish her dialogue so it sounds less scripted, more natural. It was hard to sustain interest enough to finish this book, I'll admit, but the possibilities are intriguing enough to make me want to see Harper Blaine in action one more time.

review by
Tom Knapp

2 June 2007

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