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Monday, May 10, 2010

Talking for the Dying

An author--Jan Burke--whose work I love, branching out in a new (and exciting!) direction? I'm in. Oh, yes, and how.
The Messenger is something of an anomaly; Burke is well-known--not to mention much-praised, having received the Edgar, Agatha, & Macavity awards--for her wonderful mystery series featuring California newspaper-reporter Irene Kelly. What makes this book so unusual is that it is Burke's first foray into completely new territory: the world of the supernatural, in the form of a PR thriller. (Few writers attempt something so far out of their comfort zone; fewer still probably achieve much success with it.) Happily, Burke didn't falter; she managed to write something both completely different from her usual style as well as putting a unique spin on this new-to-her genre.
The story begins in an interesting fashion, with a salvage dive that doesn't quite go according to plan. (Well, really, who ever plans on multiple equipment malfunctions? Or attacks by sharks? Or... well, let's just say that something very strange and certainly out-of-the-ordinary occurs in the ocean depths that day. Nobody plans for that.) How the story unfolds from there is fascinating, as we begin to follow a mysterious young man (Tyler Hawthorne) who, we come to find, is so much more than he appears. He seems to be a handsome, intelligent, wealthy, and rather old-fashioned chap in his mid-20s... but the reality is that he's an immortal being whose "job" is comforting the dying by speaking for them when they no longer can, conveying their dying wishes and such. Due to a bargain he made long ago--after the battle of Waterloo, no less--Tyler is destined for a mostly-solitary existence of helping the gravely-ill, not by choice but from practicality; being immortal doesn't lend itself to forming "normal," long-lasting relationships with mortals. 
Of course, he comes to rue the course his life has taken when he meets (and is next-door neighbor to) a complicated young woman (Amanda) with plenty of baggage of her own, who neither trusts nor has any intention of liking him. (In fact, she's convinced he's pulling a con--trying to get dying people to give him the combinations to their safes or make changes to their wills or the like.) Only gradually do they form an uneasy friendship.
As if the hope for a relationship with Amanda weren't enough to occupy Tyler's thoughts, though, he suddenly has far more troublesome things to worry him: an enemy from his long-ago past has returned and seems determined to put an end to Tyler's immortality, once and for all... which wouldn't necessarily be so bad--since death has been Tyler's fondest wish for quite some time--but for the fact that this enemy doesn't have any qualms about killing anyone/everyone else around Tyler, in the process, as well. (Not good.)
Were I to say more, I'd start giving key plot points away--which I'm not gonna do ;D--so suffice it to say that this was a satisfying read. There wasn't so much a mystery (aside from the "just what are these people?" variety) as a sense of anticipation (hence the thriller designation). The budding relationship between Tyler and Amanda, from the prickly to the not-prickly stage, felt "right". There were several compelling side characters to either facilitate or throw spanners in the works, by turn. Tyler's ability was really interesting, as we saw him interact with the dying several times (and it felt "fresh"; I hadn't seen that before in a story). Tyler's history was very interesting, too. (It even put me in mind--just a bit--of Eric's history in CH's books.)
A couple of other, general comments... A dog (a gigantic dog, as a matter of fact) has a MAJOR role in the plot, and it's a really good one. (So, dog lovers, take note. :)) Also, there isn't anything overly graphic in this story (language, sexual situations, etc.), so this could likely be read by teens (or precocious pre-teens ;)) with no problems. 
In all, this was a fast, enjoyable read. It won't be for everyone, but if it sounds interesting to you, I'd recommend giving it a try. :)
GlamKitty rating: 3.75 catnip mice (out of 5 possible)

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