Poltergeist (Greywalker, #2)
Poltergeist was a refreshing read and good enough that I'm rushing to find the sequel. The premise is interesting and the story and characters are reasonably engaging. The protagonist, Harper Blaine, a small-time PI in Seattle, died for two minutes and was revived with a strange power: she is able to see-sometimes inadvertently--into the Grey, the world of spirit and magic. She is pulled into a case where a poltergeist, created in a during an unusual sociology experiment, begins to go rogue and draws the other subjects into mystery and murder.
Blaine is an engaging character and a sympathetic narrator. She's a bit too wish-fulfillmentish for my taste--thin, tall, pretty, intelligent, full of special skills, and with several close and loyal friends--but YMMV. For all that, I liked her--she was the first strong female protagonist I've seen in a while whose brain is in charge rather than her hormones--although possibly only because her boyfriend is out of the country. In any case, it was refreshing for a female protagonist to have the love interest so firmly off-screen.
The one issue that seriously bothered me was what I saw as Richardson's incredibly simplistic treatment of racism. A black student gives Blaine attitude, and she tells him he has a chip on his shoulder, points out to him his own instinctual racism against her, and it's all magically better! The Chinese girl has stereotypical Asian parents. I'm not a racial minority, and even I know there is so much more complexity than is being shown here, and that the very superficiality of the portrait is offensive. The attempt of Richardson to "understand", then her dismissal of racial complexities, felt to me both patronising and obnoxious, even if well-intentioned. Otherwise, I was moderately engaged by the characters, especially Quinton, the tech nerd.
Despite its supernatural edge, the flow and pace of the story felt less like noir and more like golden age mystery--something by Sayers or Christie, perhaps. Standard noir typically has gangsters and gunfights galore. The noir PI doesn't detect so much as poke around until bullets start to fly. He (or she) is then catapulted from explosive scene after explosive scene, becoming increasingly embroiled in the politics of the dark underbelly of the city. Typically motives and methods, and even individual players, are not paramount--there are too many players with simple motives (power, money) and gangster guns behind them. The structure of Poltergeist, on the other hand, follows in the tradition of the whodunit. There is a mysterious death and a limited set of suspects. Blaine questions each one by one, trying to tease out motives and methods. Although danger escalates, there is plenty of time for exposition and conversation, and Blaine's main interest is the suspects rather than harrowing escapes and imminent doom. Perhaps the flow was a little choppy and slow, and despite some potentially dangerous circumstances, the story never made my pulse rise. I though Richardson's voice and tone fit the golden-age mystery style well. The most irritating thing to me was the constant repetition of the word "Grey" (capitalized). I'd guess that "Grey" pops up about 5 times or more each page. There needs to be a better way of describing things without the constant repetition of That Word. Although the characters are perhaps stereotypes, they still are potential suspects and therefore have inner motives and complexities.
I'll definitely be picking up the next book--I really enjoyed the mixture of cozy mystery and fantasy. Richardson also has a great deal of fun with the poltergeist, bringing in discussions of techniques for scams and mimicry, and even giving a shout-out to Dorothy L. Sayer's Strong Poison. How could I NOT love a book that does that?