Tuesday, November 6, 2007

"Poltergeist" by Kat Richardson

I absolutely love to see marked improvement between a first and second book from an author, and this is just about the perfect example (another would be Kim Harrison's series about Rachel, the witch). "Greywalker" introduced us to Harper Blaine, just an ordinary woman who now happens to have an extraordinary talent, thanks to being dead for exactly 2 minutes. That brief amount of time changed Harper's life forever (she fears); she is now a Greywalker, a person that literally walks between the land of the living and the land of the dead. When she enters the Grey, she becomes a ghost of herself to those around her, sometimes disappearing entirely. And the Grey isn't a fun place to be; there are lots of ghosts, spirits, and other beasties just waiting to catch her unawares.

In the first book, Harper spent a lot of time "falling into" the Grey, mostly because she didn't really understand what it was and how it affected her. Luckily, she became close friends with Mara and Ben Danzinger, professors who also had a deep interest in the paranormal. While not Greywalkers themselves, they took her under their wing and taught her as much as they could about her new condition, relying on their own knowledge of paranormal things and science. While I enjoyed the first book, I found myself getting irritated by just how often Harper "fell into" the Grey, how much she was floundering, etc.

Imagine how delighted I was with "Poltergeist"! Not only is the writing a bit better overall, but Harper as a character has grown a lot since we last saw her. She has actually learned how to handle the Grey for the most part and is becoming more adept at the things she can do in it and with it. YEAH! Finally, a strong female protagonist who really IS strong, one who learns from one book to the next! I was losing all hope of finding such a thing! Anyway, not only is Harper doing better at her Greywalking, she's being called in as an "expert" investigator on a university experiment gone wrong. Dr. Tuckman is trying to recreate the Phillips experiment, a project done several decades earlier, in which a group of subjects actually created an "entity" and some poltergeist activity. No one has really been able to duplicate it until now. Rather than celebrating, Tuckman wants Harper to prove that one of his project members has been faking the results; the "entity", Celia, that his group has created is too active. He believes one of the members is skewing his data and will not accept otherwise, even though Harper informs him it's possible there is a real poltergeist.

Complicating matters further is the murder of one of the group, a young man who was actually a plant by Tuckman. Seems that there was some faking going on at first, mostly to get the group to believe they could do what they can now do. Unfortunately for the young man, someone, or something, has very much killed him by bashing his skull into a wall with extreme force. Harper doesn't believe it could have been a human that did the deed, but she's not exactly sure. She asks for help from the Danzingers, Carlos, a vampire she's crossed paths with a time or two, and her electronics-wiz friend Quinton. Things don't add up, especially after she interviews each member of the group. It would appear that the good doctor has lied to Harper about a thing or two, such as his take on the dynamics of his little group of volunteers. They are not a happy family at all; there are sexual tensions running rampant, as well as huge streaks of jealousy and competitiveness, all things that could possibly lead to the creation of a real force of some sort.

The mystery is intriguing, especially since Richardson used several real historical incidences to frame it, including the Phillips experiment, the Wah Mee massacre of Seattle, and the Women's Auxiliary Army Corps from WWII. As I said, Harper as a character is much more developed and smarter, something I very much appreciate. There's a hint of the romance from the previous book, but not much. In fact, I was much more interested in her possibly hooking up with Quinton; he seems right up her alley! I am really looking forward to Ms. Richardson's next book, and hopefully, it will be in the Harper Blaine series.

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