5 of 5 Stars A Paranormal Suspense Thriller?
For ten years Kal Hakala has been the Bureau of Supernatural Investigations' (BSI) top man, the longest surviving agent in its blood-soaked history. The World At Large has no idea that The World Under exists. And its ghouls, vampires, demons, zombies, and mythic monsters are growing increasingly restless.
In all his time with the Bureau, there has been no case Kal couldn't crack, no monster he couldn't kill. Then a plague of zombies comes to Denver, along with a vicious serial killer dubbed The Organ Donor....
When I first read this partial plot synopsis of Mark Everett Stone's book, Things To Do in Denver When You're Un-Dead, I was sure that I wouldn't care much for it. Happily, I was wrong.
My wife had received an Advance Release Copy of the book to read and review. She specializes in writing horror and relates to zombies, ghouls and such. Surprisingly, she seemed convinced I would enjoy reading it as well. I was less convinced.
To me, it sounded like Men in Black meets Hellboy meets Alex Cross meets Jack Reacher. It seemed likely to be a buffet dinner at the Cliche Cafe...pick one cliche from each of the columns and enjoy your reading meal. Ughh.
The book proved to be something exactly like that - only entirely different. While Mark DOES work in some tongue-in-cheek references to Star Wars, MiB and other well-known works, his book is much more indeed. It is a truly phenomenal cross-genre piece that best qualifies, perhaps, as a Paranormal Suspense Thriller...maybe.
Kal Hakala is a difficult protagonist to like at first. He is surly, cocky, rude, and very, very angry. As the BSI's most senior field agent, Kal has the Bureau's carte blanche to act and do whatever he wants, as long as he continues to perform for them. He seldom defers to authority, allows for no human weakness in his fellow agents and exists, for no reason other than, to destroy monsters.
Kal's dedication AND his rage are clearly shown. His motivation is to use the Bureau and its unique resources to exact vengeance on the near-mythic being responsible for the death of his sister. For their part, the Bureau is well aware of Kal's obsession and they stand fully ready to exploit it to their fullest advantage. It is one, decidedly, twisted symbiotic relationship indeed.
It's very difficult to say at what point I came to, not only like but, actively root for Kal. Mark so masterfully weaves his story that it's inevitable to also see within Kal his sorrow, his self-hate and the pain that his revenge-quest has caused him. He is a classic example of the flawed Tragic Hero. He will endure any hardship to protect and defend others from harm, while sustaining brutal, crippling damage to both his mind and body. He IS a hero, albeit an unlikely one.
You must read this book to appreciate why so much of my review centers on Kal. He IS the story. Without his presence, the story would not be as compelling. The tale, certainly, does not lack for an excellent ensemble of other characters. From an assortment of Agents both past and present, some rather quirky and bizarre support staff, assorted magicians and even a cyber-ghost, there are no shortage of players to like and empathize with.
I would be VERY remiss if I didn't include a cautionary warning to Mark's potential readers. Kal's feelings of loneliness and loss are not without a strong basis. NO...I repeat, NO character in the book should not be considered to be expendable...at any time. So, feel free to like, love or cheer for any or all of the folks you meet in the story. BUT, please be prepared for any, or perhaps all, of those people to suffer a painful, ignominious, final indignity resulting in their elimination at ANY given point. It can happen and likely may happen. It's okay. It is not a capricious move on Mark's part but merely a logical progression of events and possibilities.
In conclusion, if you crave a really enjoyable Paranormal Suspense Thriller to read, THIS is your book. It grabs you from the very first page and drags you along (snarling for you to keep up) and dumps you at the feet of one of THE most unexpected plot twists of an ending that I have ever read. While this novel is Mark's first, it reads as a cohesive, refined product that leaves me salivating for its forthcoming sequel. It is a unique story uniquely told. Kudos Mark for this debut work.