Monday, June 8, 2015

A paranormal thriller minus the thrills

Dark Equinox

By Ian Jarvis


Publisher: Damnation Books

Pub. Date: January 27, 2015

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

Philip Tarot is a fake psychic who witnesses a murder in an Edinburgh graveyard while visiting the grave-site of his deceased wife. At first he wants to report the murder but realizes that claiming he saw it in a psychic vision would be a boost for his career. At first the detectives are skeptical but when the murderer is caught, Philip becomes a hero and a celebrity. But it also places him in the sights of The Sorority, an occult group going back to Aleister Crowley and now headed by his granddaughter. They are using a series of murders to start a chain of events that will change the world for the worst. He also gets the attention of Iona Kyle, a real occultist and psychic, who knows the extreme danger he is in.

Dark Equinox is best described as a paranormal mystery. There is very little that is horrific about the plot and it travels well frequented paths in the occult and supernatural thriller genres. The author Ian Jarvis moves the action well although I would preferred a little more action and less verbal explanations at times. His best quality is the ability to bring Edinburgh to life. He combines action with place quite well. Yet there was an old fashioned feel to some to the dialogue. I had to keep reminding myself that most of the novel is set in present day rather than the 40s, where the prologue is set. Dark Equinox is titled “Book one of the Iona Kyle series“ yet Iona is not the main character nor the most interesting. Most of the pleasure in this novel centers on Philip Tarot, a morally ambiguous man whose love for his teenage daughter surpasses his own questions about his chosen profession. There is a nice scene early on where he tries to explain to his daughter that telling a lie is not always bad while realizing it is he who has crossed that line. It helps set up Philip’s developing dilemma as he go in deeper to his own lies and places him and his daughter in danger. Two other interesting characters are the detectives Angie Blair and Bernard Fry. Frye is a die-hard skeptic while Blair is a little skeptical but is willing to believe if it helps her solve the murder. Their different styles adds a nice level of tension to the mystery.

It is the characterization and the intriguing premise of fake psychic helped by real psychic that hooked me initially. But there are too many issues to make the novel successful in my eyes. First, there is Iona Kyle, the supposed heroine of the story. Compared to the other three I mentioned she comes across flat. The attempt by the author to make her a bit of a mystery herself gets in the way of the reader developing any empathy for her. Yet even when we find out more about her, it feels more like a standard plot twist than the type of development that involves the reader.

Which brings up the plot twists themselves. The paranormal mystery has been around for a while and is laden with formula and gimmicks. Unfortunately the author tends not to avoid any of them. There is pretty much every occult trick in the books thrown in from Nazis to mind control to rescuing spirits. When so many are thrown in, we also expect the formula that goes with them. We are introduced to the characters fairly quickly, but it is no surprise to us when we find out who the last potential victim of the Sorority will be. It fits the formula.

This being the first book of a series, there is always room for improvement. I would like to see Iona become more real and vulnerable and see perhaps a mystery that examines those vulnerabilities. There are a number of nice things about this novel but it doesn’t rise over the more generic paranormal thrillers that are glutting the market. I might recommend this to the avid supernatural mystery fan but not too many other readers.

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