Bookworms: Necromancer (2012) by C. Bryan Brown
“Then he’d given his heart to Kara, and she still had it, whether she wanted to believe or not. His soul belonged to Nicole and Francesca, his precious twins. The rest of him. all the anger, fear, hurt, and hate, he poured into the job. Each day was an exercise in emotional turmoil, and he used it. Abused it, even. It was a shit job in a shit world and he’d do anything… anything to protect his heart and soul.”
The strength of Necromancer isn’t that it’s good, it’s excellent, it’s that it pulls zero punches. Its world is ugly and unceremonious. There is no such thing as a sugar coating, it simply doesn’t exist. The harsh reality of what detectives do and the dirt bags they bust is shoved right underneath even harsher fluorescent lights. In such a reality, there’s no such thing as the supernatural. There’s good stuff, there’s bad stuff, and none of that magical stuff. Right? Wrong. You’ll find a surprising dearth of the mystical, which in this iteration includes the undead, here. Additionally, Torrin, the protagonist, is the bad guy, but he’s the bad good guy. Which was a welcome, if at times heartbreaking, surprise.
Sometimes grating and a little hesitant, particularly at the beginning, Necromancer tosses you directly into the indiscretions of Torrin McGlynne, husband, father, detective, black market drug dealer, murderer. Without revealing one of the most impressive let’s see how the reader feels about this passages I’ve come across in a long time, Torrin manages to straddle the divide between anti-hero and the guy you can’t believe this happens to by the end of the novel. You’re actually rooting for the man as all his past sins catch up to him in a crunching twelve-car pileup.
The fact of the matter is that Torrin is as monogamous as one can get without going celibate. And as a parent, everything, everything he does is for his twin daughters. While solving murder cases with his partner, Robert “Bobby” Boone, Torrin is routinely taking out drug traffickers and selling their goods to the, get this, reputable drug dealer in town, The Medicine Man, to ensure a nest egg for his two daughters. If ever there was misplaced chivalry, alongside a disgusting familial selfishness, here it be. The irony is not lost on Torrin, or on his sense of morality, whatever shredded condition it is in at this point.
One point that grated is when Torrin is introduced to the Medicine Man, despite the obvious mutual benefit working with Torrin grants, Medicine Man has the upper hand. Their relationship and its seeming equality is never satisfyingly explained. However, considering Necromancer offers no pat answers even to the mystical going-ons, especially where Torrin is concerned, this shouldn’t be surprising. It is, however, the main strand I found oddly refreshing and utterly infuriating.
Regardless, it’s Torrin’s determination that drives him into the ruthlessness the reader gets dropped into. What makes Torrin’s activities… palatable are the scenes in which we see Torrin with his daughters; they are his entire world, even being the bad good guy can’t stop that. Brown successfully doesn’t excuse Torrin’s acts, or even make him more likable but it does make you sympathetic, almost against your will. The ambiguity of the situation exists since Torrin doesn’t stray off killing the ‘bad guys’ path for his benefit. It’s when he does waver from that path that he becomes haunted. Not metaphorically. Literally.
Torrin and Bobby are working a case that is tangentially related to the first indiscretion of Torrin’s that we meet him in. Bobby is the clean shaven, crisp, by the book detective, the opposite of Torrin’s rumpled casualness. The two work indecently well together. During the few weeks Necromancer takes place in, it’s Bobby we watch research, google, and work out the specific case details, often covering his partner’s ass without ever lying for him. Bobby is the honest-to-god good guy in this tale. The circumstances around his death are painful and made worse when we’re forced to watch Torrin stop his risen corpse.
Torrin, on the other hand, is the more speculative of the two, Mulder to Bobby’s Scully, using every loophole at his disposal and acting on deep gut hunch and instinct. All the while doing the wrong thing too, in the end, only to do the right thing. What Torrin could have become had he not been sticking his finger in the cocaine bag to begin with is the greatest mystery of all. Worse, the mystical, magic-wielding group he gets entangled in because it’s all tied to this main case, leaves him dangling in the wind. It’s one that is left disgustingly open for interpretation. At which point, perhaps like I did, you will throw the book across the room at the wall with an unsatisfying thud and go tweet the author. One thing I will warn of: there’s no sequel. Brown confirmed it himself.
If there ever was an writer I wanted to punch after reading a novel, it would be Brown; which is high praise. That’s what a good novel does, even one we have to shower after reading to get clean again. It makes us think. Makes us feel. Even the ugly feels. It is definitely labeled correctly under the mystery, urban fantasy, and horror genres. Though the horror is the reality Torrin, and us readers, are faced with at the end. Knowledge is an uncompromising b*$%^.
Necromancer by C. Bryan Brown. Post Mortem Press, 2012. 213 pages (softback).