Tuesday, May 29, 2007

"The Next" by Dan Vining

"There is a place, a position, something, a state...between being alive and being dead. Not alive, not dead. In between."

So explains Jimmy Miles to a distraught father, a man who has lost his twin daughters to a suicidal jump, yet has seen one of the girls walking past him on the street just hours later. Jimmy tries to explain that his daughter is now what is known as a Sailor, a being that is no longer alive, but is also not dead, nor a ghost. Sailors are sort of in a state of limbo, some for several years, some for over one hundred years. They come mostly from suicides but can also be the result of murder or accidents. No one knows why a person becomes a Sailor, not even the Sailors themselves. They are all over the country, probably the world, but for some reason seem to congregate around bodies of water, especially the sea, thus the term Sailors. They will look like themselves for a few brief hours after their deaths, then they take on a different appearance. Relatives may still be able to detect their mannerisms, patterns of speech, etc, but it will be hard. And Sailors almost always break into camps, usually Good and Bad.

All but Jimmy Miles, a loner. He acts as a private investigator in his new life, mostly taking cases that don't involve married couples checking on their cheating spouses. His friend Angel, a fellow Sailor, asks him to keep an eye on a young lady friend of his, Lucy, a girl who seems awfully depressed and sad. Angel is worried about Lucy, and Jimmy can't say no to his friend. But this case is about a lot more than a sad girl, as Jimmy is soon to find out.

A lost love of Jimmy's is now living in San Francisco, the town he follows Lucy into. And once Jimmy spots Mary, he pretty much abandons the Lucy case, with tragic results. Mary seems happy to see Jimmy, although she is now married with a child. Jimmy has his suspicions that the marriage is not a happy one, even wondering if the husband is a Sailor as well. He's about to discover that San Francisco is not the town he once knew, and that the people he's running into are not what they seem, either.

It's a bit of a complicated plot, and the idea of Sailors may be hard for some people to take. Actually, it's all very mysterious, which sort of adds to the feel of the book. It's very much a noir mystery, but with that strange supernatural element of the Sailors. Jimmy is a likable guy, and the story is told mostly from his point of view. The only real problem I had with this book is the jumps in timeline from the present to the past. There's nothing to really let you know that you're about to go from one to the other, and since the characters of Jimmy, Angel and Mary all figure into both, it wasn't always clear which year I was in. But overall, I liked this book. It's the second one by Vining starring Jimmy, and I'm hoping there will be another one down the road.

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