Friday, December 06, 2013

Book Review - Poe

Even though the “back of the book” summary gives a fairly detailed overview, I still found myself a little surprised at what I got upon reading Poe. As mentioned in the synopsis, the book is centered around a twenty-something aspiring author named Dimitri. He works at a small town newspaper writing obituaries while hoping to eventually finish writing his epic novel (about how Rasputin was really a zombie). The book starts on Halloween one year after his parents’ mysterious/tragic deaths. Dimitri is given an odd last minute assignment to cover a midnight seance in a run down haunted house. He meets (and falls for) punk rocker Lisa as they wait for the seance to begin. The seance turns out to have a real touch with the supernatural and the next thing we know, Dimitri is dead…or presumed dead. He wakes up much later in the city morgue just before being presumably embalmed. From there things just go from bad to worse and life gets more and more strange for Dimitri. Bodies start turning up around town as a serial killer starts to strike. Dimitri finds himself haunted by a strange spirit he nicknames “Poe” (as in Edgar Allan). Lisa’s brother is revealed to be a crazed escapee from an insane asylum and just happens to practice dark magic and demon summoning. And on, and on.

The story had enough twists, turns and surprises to continue being compelling in spite of being very convoluted and confusing at times. The author inundates the reader with a ton of details one right after another. Initially many of these details feel unrelated and irrelevant but then later turn out to be coincidentally tied into either the central plot or some new side plot. Like an intricate weaving, we are presented thread after thread in such a way that what starts out as a messy tangle of threads and colors eventually becomes a detailed tapestry. At times I did feel the constant circling and twisting of details to be tedious but I was still intrigued by the overall story and so I persevered even through the dry and obtuse moments.

I also enjoyed the multiple different stories being laid out simultaneously. Over the days/weeks/months that Dimitri works through the mystery right in front of him, he does some investigative research in the newspaper archives and elsewhere. As he does, he discovers some interesting history about the haunted house and the community. Eventually he starts having dream visions triggered by his ghost hostess Poe in which he relives a variety of the historical moments. As time goes on we also start to learn some of the historical stories of Dimitri’s own past…his interaction with his parents and even some of their history. These additional stories were interesting to explore and I enjoyed the way they were worked into the overall plot.

While I couldn’t totally relate to them personally, I felt like Dimitri and Lisa were well defined characters that were able to jump from the page into imagination and just run with the story. The vivid nature of our central characters also helped carry me through points that might have otherwise stalled me.

Among the aspects that stalled my reading or made me want to put the book down, the biggest was the vulgarity. This seems to be a common theme in genre fiction, particularly “thriller” fiction like this. I must hang out in different crowds because it seems shocking to me that real people would curse as much as these characters do just in normal conversation. I can see the author wanting to emphasize the intensity of the situation with a sudden outburst of profanity but to have the F-bomb dropped so casually in so many unexpected moments was just jarring.

I was also taken back by the amazing number of crazy coincidences throughout the story. I won’t go into spoilers for the book but just be warned that nearly every chance encounter or mundane interaction actually has some coincidental tie-in to the plot at some later point. By the end of the book I found the number of outrageous coincidences to be laughable. Perhaps that is part of the reason for the reference to “Poe” in naming the ghost…the heavy handed coincidences and way of letting things fall into place felt very much like 18th or 19th century mystery writing rather than the more intricate and subtle mysteries that the genre has grown into. With that regard, the book felt a little unpolished and less than stellar.

Speaking of the name of the ghost/book (“Poe”), it still felt like a very odd choice at least in terms of the story and of the main character. I can see why an author or publisher would want to do it…alluding to Poe when marketing a horror novel is an obvious win. But it seems a little thin for Dimitri to randomly pull the nickname out of the hat just because he happened to make an off the cuff reference to Poe during the Halloween seance. I’ll grant that he’s an English lit student and an aspiring author but it still just seemed very strange and truly had no real bearing on the story.

Generally speaking this was a fun read. The overall mystery was interesting. While there were a lot of coincidental elements that became difficult to swallow, the story itself was intriguing and enjoyable. I was not a fan of the level of vulgarity in the book and would have much preferred toned down dialog between the characters. The ending of the book provided adequate closure but definitely left open the possibility of turning this into a series centered around Dimitri working out other similar problems in the future. While they might be fun at first, I’d be worried that they would fall a little flat now that some of the biggest mysteries (Dimitri’s history and the history of what happened in the haunted house) have now been revealed. Give it a try if you’re looking for some grim supernatural intrigue. Just beware the swearing (especially if handing this to younger readers).

3 out of 5 stars

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1 comment:

Brian Miller said...

eh sounds like there are enough holes in this one that i might stay away from it...i think its a bit weak the tie to poe just to sell a book...