Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: mystery, paranormal, urban fantasy
Series: Ishmael Jones #8
Published by Severn House on March 3, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's Website, Publisher's Website, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Bookshop.org, Better World Books
When a body is discovered in a locked toilet cubicle on the late-night train to Bath, Ishmael Jones is faced with his most puzzling case to date.
When Ishmael Jones and his partner Penny are asked to escort a VIP on the late-night train to Bath, it would appear to be a routine case. The Organisation has acquired intelligence that an attempt is to be made on Sir Dennis Gregson's life as he travels to Bath to take up his new position as Head of the British Psychic Weapons Division. Ishmael's mission is to ensure that Sir Dennis arrives safely.
How could anyone orchestrate a murder in a crowded railway carriage without being noticed and with no obvious means of escape? When a body is discovered in a locked toilet cubicle, Ishmael Jones has just 56 minutes to solve a seemingly impossible crime before the train reaches its destination.
Reading Reality is having a bit of a theme going in the days leading up to Halloween, and this visit with Ishmael Jones and his partner Penny Belcourt is just horror-adjacent enough to be a part of it.
And I was having a hankering for some high-quality snarkitude and this author ALWAYS delivers!
Ishmael Jones is a fascinating character – to himself most of all at times. He’s an alien. Specifically, he’s a version of E.T. with no way to phone home because he doesn’t remember where it is. When he crash-landed his ship in 1963 the ship’s last act was to transform him into a human adult the best that it could – and erase all his memories of who and/or what he used to be.
It didn’t exactly do a BAD job at Ishmael’s transformation. He blends in just fine. But he doesn’t change or age, so he’s looked like a man in his mid-30s for almost 60 years at this point and has the same problem that vampires often do in paranormal stories. He has to move on every so often before too many people start to notice too much.
Ishmael’s solution has been to work for a series of agencies so black and so secret that they don’t even know what their own right and left hands are doing – let alone anyone else’s. They keep his secrets and in return he keeps theirs and does the kind of dirty work that actual humans aren’t capable of for very long – if at all.
His work and romantic partner, Penny Belcourt, knows as many of his secrets as Ishmael himself does. They met on a case, the first one in this series, The Dark Side of the Road, a story that began as a rather typical English country house mystery that went seriously far into the Dark Side of multiple Forces.
Ishmael and Penny are the coyly-named Organization’s best agents, so it’s not exactly a surprise for them to be ordered to report for a top secret, rush-rush and hush-hush job, not even to London’s St. Pancras Station. It’s just annoying and both of them are at least somewhat annoyed by being handed tickets to an express train to Bath with not nearly enough information about their instructions to guard a high-ranking politician who has just been promoted to an equally high-ranking top-secret job on said politician’s imminent journey to take up his new post via that London to Bath train.
The trip will take less than two hours. It shouldn’t be that difficult to keep the man alive for that length of time on a moving train that will not stop to take on anyone or anything until it reaches its destination.
But if it were an easy job the Organization wouldn’t be putting its best agents on the case. And they are, so it isn’t. It’s just that it’s even more clandestine and hush-hush than even Ishmael and Penny suspected. And they suspected a lot, and everyone, from the very beginning.
Escape Rating A-: There are two things I find pretty much endlessly fun about this particular series. One, of course and always, is the author’s trademark snarkitude. It’s a signature that follows him everywhere from urban fantasy like his Nightside series to science fiction such as his Deathstalker series to the genre-mashup that is the Ishmael Jones series.
The other thing is a particular feature of the Ishmael Jones series, and it’s that this series is a genre-mashup of pretty much everything. It’s a bit of SF in Ishmael’s alien origins, a bit of urban fantasy in that he often faces monsters that are believed at the outset to be things that go bump in the night, and there’s generally a bit of horror in that whatever he’s investigating leaves a thoroughly gruesome trail of dead bodies and parts thereof.
But ultimately – or at its heart or a bit of both – the Ishmael Jones series are mysteries. Someone gets dead early on in each book, if there isn’t already a corpse laying around at the start. It’s up to Ishmael and Penny to figure out whodunnit and put a stop to them one way or another before the story reaches its inevitably grisly end.
What makes the mystery so much creepy fun is that as the mystery deepens there’s always a sneaking suspicion that the perpetrator is paranormal in some way, and that in the end that suspicion is nearly always a very tasty red herring. This particular mystery takes that assumption one better, as there is, for once, something actually paranormal going on but it isn’t either the monster or even the victim.
Because one of the things that this series does so very well, and with so much high-quality snark and occasional sheer bloody-mindedness, is that the worst monsters in this or any other universe are inevitably human. And that’s what keeps me coming back to this series, over and over and over again.
If this series sounds like it might be your jam, or if you’ve ever wanted to see just how far a classic-type mystery like a country house mystery or a strangers on a train type mystery can be led very, very far astray, take a look at The Dark Side of the Road and see if you like the view from that side.
I’ll be continuing with my journey with Ishmael Jones and Penny Belcourt with the next book in the series, The House on Widows Hill, the next time I have a yen for either high-quality snark, horror-adjacent mystery, or a bit of both!