Review: Till Sudden Death Do Us Part by Simon R. Green

Review: Till Sudden Death Do Us Part by Simon R. GreenTill Sudden Death Do Us Part (Ishmael Jones #7) by Simon R. Green
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: mystery, paranormal, urban fantasy
Series: Ishmael Jones #7
Pages: 192
Published by Severn House on April 30, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook DepositoryBookshop.org
Goodreads


A wedding. A murder. A 200-year-old curse: Ishmael Jones is plunged into a baffling investigation when he answers an old friend's call for help.

Although he hasn't seen Robert Bergin for 40 years, Ishmael feels duty bound to respond when his old friend calls for help. Robert's daughter Gillian is about to be married, and he is afraid she'll fall prey to the ancient family curse.
Arriving in rural Yorkshire, Ishmael and his partner Penny learn that the vicar who was to perform the ceremony has been found dead in the church, hanging from his own bell rope. With no clues, no evidence and no known motive, many locals believe the curse is responsible. Or is someone just using it as a smokescreen for murder? With the wedding due to take place the following day, Ishmael has just a few hours to uncover the truth.
But his investigations are hampered by sudden flashes of memory: memories of the time before he was human. What is it Ishmael's former self is trying to tell him ... ?

My Review:

I pulled this one from somewhere in the midst of the virtually towering TBR pile because I finished a book in one of this author’s other series for a Library Journal review and realized that I was still in the mood for his particular brand of snark and that I wasn’t caught up to Ishmael Jones yet.

So here we are. Or rather, there Ishmael Jones and his partner Penny Belcourt are, in another play on a country house ghost story. One in which the ghost may not be real, but there really is something out to get Ishmael, Penny, and whoever either invited them or whom they need to protect from something that has gone loudly, seriously and with malice very much aforethought bump in the night.

Ishmael’s been invited to a wedding in Bradenford, Yorkshire, a rural town he’s never been to before and hopes never to be again even before the mess of this case.

The thing about Ishmael – well, honestly there are a LOT of things about Ishmael, most of which Penny Belcourt knows (because they met on a case in their first adventure, The Dark Side of the Road). Ishmael and now Penny work for a mysterious organization rather coyly named The Organization because Ishmael needs something that clandestine to hide him from all the ubiquitous security devices and agencies that have cropped up all over the world since he crash-landed his UFO in 1963. And hasn’t aged a day since.

He looks human because his ship fixed that before it went defunct. But it didn’t do a perfect job. It’s not just the lack of aging, it also locked away all his memories of who and what he was before.

But this is a case that seems designed to bring back more of his past than he has any desire to meet. Both his past passing for human AND his past as an alien monster. He’s not even sure which reveal is going to be worse.

Still, he and Penny come to Bradenford because he owes an old colleague more than he can ever repay. Even if his attempt at that repayment is going to reveal at least some of the secrets he’s been keeping. Because it’s been 40 years since Ishmael and Robert Bergin have met. Bergin shows every single one of those years – while Ishmael displays precisely none.

But Bergin reluctantly recognizes that he’s not the man he used to be, while Ishmael still very much is. And that’s exactly who Bergin needs, a skilled operator used to dealing with all the terrible and secret things that no one wants to admit exist.

There’s a curse on the Bergin family and it has reached out from the past to grab his daughter and everyone involved with her wedding to an actor who probably isn’t nearly good enough for her.

But no one deserves to get sliced to pieces by some monster with fangs, claws and a 200-year-old vendetta.

It’s up to Ishmael and Penny to figure out whether there really is a curse – or just someone taking advantage of the old legends for grisly purposes of their own.

Escape Rating B: This turned out to be exactly what I was looking for. The author is very much an acquired taste – but one I acquired so long ago that when I get the craving nothing else will do.

What brings me back over and over is the snarkitude. Whoever the protagonist is in one of his series, they are all cut from the same snarky, wry, sarcastic cloth, thinking all the things we wish we’d thought at the time, making all the smart-assed observations – and still managing to get the dirty job done no matter who they piss off along the way.

Because there’s always someone – and usually multiples.

Part of what makes Ishmael Jones in particular so interesting are the built-in ironies of the whole setup. Ishmael is an alien investigating weird shit who doesn’t believe in demons, ghosts, spirits or any of the other psychic phenomena that the people he’s investigating are generally desperate to blame for whatever has gone wrong. He knows there’s weird shit out there, but he’s very much aware that there’s always a human agency behind it. Every once in a while, it’s a human agency he used to work for.

From Ishmael’s perspective, this is a story about his own past coming back to bite him. Both in the sense that he learns stuff he still didn’t want to know about his old friend Bergin and their mutual employer, but also because he’s feeling like his old identity is emerging from the shadows he’s kept it buried in for almost 60 years. He’s afraid of his own past and his inability to control it because Ishmael is the persona that Penny loves and he never wants to lose that.

But this is also a murder-mystery. Everyone in town wants it to be the old curse because no one wants to think there’s a brutal murderer roaming their peaceful little town. A mysterious curse brings tourists while a rampaging mundane murderer will drive everyone away. At least it ought to.

I have mixed feelings about the way the murders get solved. It could be interpreted as a bit of a cheap shot that got redeemed at the end with a clever twist. You’ll have to decide for yourself.

Howsomever, I enjoyed my journey with Ishmael and Penny, so I’ll be back to see how Ishmael’s reconciliation between his past and his present continues in Night Train to Murder the next time I have a taste for extreme snarkitude blended with murder.

Review: Murder in the Dark by Simon R. Green

Review: Murder in the Dark by Simon R. GreenMurder in the Dark (Ishmael Jones, #6) by Simon R. Green
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: horror, paranormal, suspense, urban fantasy
Series: Ishmael Jones #6
Pages: 192
Published by Severn House Publishers on December 1, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads


The sudden appearance of a sinister black hole in the English countryside leads to a baffling murder investigation for Ishmael Jones.

"The past is England's dreaming, and not all of it sleeps soundly..."
Ishmael Jones and his partner Penny have been despatched to assist a group of scientists who are investigating a mysterious black hole which has appeared on a Somerset hillside. Could it really be a doorway to another dimension, an opening into another world?
When one of the scientists disappears into the hole — with fatal consequences — Ishmael must prove whether it was an accident — or murder. But with no clues, no witnesses and no apparent motive, he has little to go on. Is there an alien predator at large, or is an all-too-human killer responsible? Only one thing is certain: if Ishmael does not uncover the truth in time, more deaths will follow...

My Review:

There’s an uncanny, unnatural hole in the fabric of the universe, and it’s up to an almost-but-not-quite-completely human to close this extremely dangerous door in the space-time continuum.

In a nutshell, that’s the premise of Murder in the Dark, this sixth book in the Ishmael Jones urban fantasy/paranormal/SF series.

What’s even weirder is that, at least so far, it’s also the plot of The Scavenger Door, the book I’m currently listening to. Considering that I started Murder in the Dark because I wanted to keep on reading Scavenger Door but couldn’t for a variety of reasons, I was really surprised to discover that I sorta/kinda was anyway.

The Ishmael Jones series exists at an uncanny crossroads between urban fantasy, paranormal and science fiction. The SFnal element is Ishmael himself. He’s an alien who crash landed his spaceship on Earth in the early 1960s. His ship did its level best to transform him into a human, but it glitched a few of the details. He hasn’t aged a day since he crashed. And he doesn’t remember a thing about his life before the crash. Both of these “glitches” come into play a bit in this story.

The stories in this series, for the most part, have been a play on the old country house murders. Ishmael met his romantic and investigative partner Penny Belcourt in the first book in the series, The Dark Side of the Road, when Ishmael was sent by his mysterious and secretive employers, The Organization, to look into the eerie and uncanny goings on at the country house where Penny lived with her parents. Penny was the sole survivor of that investigation.

In fact, most of Ishmael and Penny’s investigations turn out that way, the way that Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None turned out. Ishmael and Penny manage to walk away, but seldom do many – or sometimes any – of the people they are sent in to save. Even though they always manage to solve the original mystery.

Ishmael is starting to get a bit of survivor’s guilt over that fact.

But this story is a bit off of Ishmael and Penny’s beaten path, as they are sent in to secure a hole in the side of a hill in a seriously remote bit of countryside. No country houses in sight. Just a hole that swallows up everything that gets a bit too close – including one of the archaeologists that found it in the first place.

The Organization has sent a team of crackerjack scientists to investigate the unnatural hole, and sent Ishmael and Penny to keep the scientists safe while they investigate. When they arrive, both Ishmael and Penny believe that they are there to keep the scientists safe from the hole, and the hole safe from the scientists – along with anyone else who might happen to wander by.

It doesn’t take long for both of them to figure out that their real job is keeping the scientists safe from themselves – and each other.

Escape Rating B+: This was the right book at the right time, and not just for its surprising resemblance to The Scavenger Door. After yesterday’s terrific book, I was looking for something that also had a high snark quotient, and this author has always been good for that, no matter which of his many, many sandboxes he happens to be playing in at the time. And I was looking forward to swiftly sinking into a world that I already knew, and the Ishmael Jones series certainly has that box ticked off as well.

Last but not least, because I love this series and this author, I was hoping that this entry in the series would redeem the previous book, Into the Thinnest of Air, because that one didn’t quite live up to my expectations. But Murder in the Dark, even though it went to a different locale than the series usually does, was just a much better book.

All of the above being said, this is the sixth book in an ongoing series. I’m not certain that you need to have read them ALL to get stuck into this one, but reading at least the series opener, The Dark Side of the Road, would probably help a lot. Also it’s very good if you like creepy country house mysteries with even creepier monsters hiding in the shadows.

There are three mysteries in the dark in this story. One is the mystery that brings Ishmael and Penny into the picture, the mystery of the mystery of the unnatural hole. Who or what created it? What is it? Where does it go? What is its purpose?

The second mystery seems like it’s part of the first, at least at first. Who or what is killing the scientists?

And then there’s that third mystery, the one that lies behind the entire series. Who was Ishmael Jones before he became Ishmael Jones? Where did he come from? Why was he near Earth? How did he crash?

Ishmael has learned very few answers to those questions about himself. But he has learned that he really doesn’t want to know. Whoever he was and wherever he came from, right here and right now he’s exactly where he belongs, with Penny.

What’s surprising about those three mysteries is that they are not neatly tied up with a single bow. Rather, they are individually tied with separate bows, no matter how much someone tries to make it seem like the hole is responsible for the murders, possibly via the agency of someone who is a blast from Ishmael’s unremembered past.

The thing that makes this series work is that in spite of any supernatural or extraterrestrial red herrings that may appear while Ishmael and Penny are desperately trying to figure out who’s bumping off the people they’re supposed to save, the reality turns out to be that the biggest, baddest and deadliest monsters in any setting are human. The evil that people are capable of doing to each other is much, much scarier than any mythical beast or raygun toting alien. That in the end the most horrible monsters are just people doing bad things because they’re selfish and greedy. And it’s that grounding in human monsters and human evil that keep the whole thing from flying over the top, jumping the shark, and landing in a cesspit full of slime monsters.

This is a series that when I’m in the mood for it, I’m really in the mood for it and nothing else will do. So I’ll be back with Ishamel Jones and Penny Belcourt in Till Sudden Death Do Us Part the next time I need a story with the creep factor on high and the snark turned up to eleven.

Review: Into the Thinnest of Air by Simon R. Green

Review: Into the Thinnest of Air by Simon R. GreenInto the Thinnest of Air (Ishmael Jones, #5) by Simon R. Green
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: hardcover, large print, paperback, ebook, audiobok
Genres: horror, suspense, urban fantasy
Series: Ishmael Jones #5
Pages: 167
Published by Severn House Publishers on March 1, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads


Dinner at an ancient Cornish inn leads to one baffling disappearance after another in the latest intriguing Ishmael Jones mystery.

"It's just a nice weekend, in a nice country inn. Nothing bad is going to happen ..."
Ishmael Jones and his partner Penny are attending the re-opening of Tyrone's Castle, an ancient Cornish inn originally built by smugglers. Over dinner that night, the guests entertain one another with ghost stories inspired by local legends and superstitions. But it would appear that the curse of Tyrone's Castle has struck for real when one of their number disappears into thin air. And then another . . .
Is the inn really subject to an ancient curse? Sceptical of ghost stories, Ishmael believes the key to the mystery lies in the present rather than the past. But with no bodies, no evidence and no clues to go on, how can he prove it?

My Review:

There’s a version of Murphy’s Law for adventurers and investigators, and after everything that’s happened to Penny Belcourt since she met Ishmael Jones in the first book in this series, The Dark Side of the Road, she should definitely know better than to invoke it.

(I’ve just realized that Penny is the “final girl” of that story. The concept behind The Final Girl Support Group seems to be a gift that just keeps on giving…)

As this adventure opens, Penny asks her investigative and romantic partner, alien-turned-mostly-human Ishmael Jones, to come with her to a celebratory dinner for some old friends of her late parents that she’s been invited to. In Cornwall. At the restoration of a haunted smuggler’s inn with a bloody history.

Because she wants to spend a quiet, vacation-type weekend with him, doing normal couple things and pretending to be a normal couple, instead of spending all of their weekends at creepy places cleaning up even creepier happenings for their secretive employers, the mysterious “Organization”.

The number of ways that Penny should have known better absolutely beggar the imagination. Penny and Ishmael may be romantically involved, but “normal” just isn’t in either of their wheelhouses.

That the place they are intending to visit has a long and bloody history of murder, smuggling, poisoning, crazy murderers doing what the “Voices” in their head tell them to do, mysterious disappearances and don’t forget the murders is pretty much a guarantee that something about this weekend is going to shift in shape from normal to pear.

And so it proves when the first member of the group disappears into thin air. But that’s only the beginning, as one-by-one every member of the uncomfortable and increasingly frightened party disappears from seemingly plain sight in places where there’s no possible exit – but only when the remaining potential victims are distracted or have their backs briefly turned.

Or when someone is in the loo, with the door, quite naturally, closed.

As the number of “guests” winds down, the speculation ratchets up. Some claim that it must be ghosts, or the spirit of a long-dead murderer still haunting the scene of his crimes. Ishmael is firmly convinced that whatever is happening, there’s a real, live, most likely human agency involved.

After all, a ghost wouldn’t need to get their victims alone in order to whisk them away. Only the living need to hide the evil that they do behind smoke and mirrors.

Unless, of course, they’ve all been played from the very beginning.

Escape Rating B+: Just as the guests disappear into the thinnest of air, that also seemed to be what the plot of this story was made out of. Not that it’s not a fun read, because it certainly was, but this isn’t a big story. Also not a terribly long one, so if you’re looking for just a bit of horror-barely-adjacent urban fantasy-type storytelling with oodles of snark, this entire series might be your jam.

It certainly is mine, especially when the mood for snarkasm strikes.

Part of what makes this particular story one of the “thinner” plots of the series – so far at least – is that all the participants were being extremely obvious that this reunion of old friends – with Penny invited in place of her late father – was absolutely boiling over with long-buried resentments. And that there was a not-very-well-hidden agenda involving Penny herself.

Ishmael’s presence as Penny’s plus-one was neither expected nor desired. The tensions among the group were so obvious and so high that when the disappearances began Ishmael should have been checking every circumstance out for himself. But he wasn’t, and that felt a bit out of character although it was necessary to make the whole thing work.

What was interesting was the ongoing discussion about the difference between “paranormal” and “supernatural”. The participants became increasingly credulous and superstitious as their numbers were reduced. Many of them wanted to believe in a supernatural explanation, because the presence of a ghost would have made them feel better. For slightly weird interpretations of the word – and feeling – better.

There was certainly plenty of bloody history to have created a ghost on the spot – if one believes that ghosts are real. Or if one simply subscribes to the belief that there are no atheists in a foxhole, and that some belief in something was better than nothing.

But Ishmael, who is not exactly human, doesn’t believe in the supernatural. He does, however, believe in the paranormal. In other words, he doesn’t believe in things that science will never be able to explain at all (supernatural) but does believe in things that science can’t explain yet (paranormal). After all, he is one. And he’s met plenty of others.

If you’ve read previous books in this series, it’s obvious from the beginning that the perpetrator is certainly corporeal and most likely human. The trick in this little puzzle is figuring out both who done it and why, and that’s just the kind of puzzle that Ishmael and Penny are best at.

Normal weekends doing normal couple things are totally outside their wheelhouse – but it’s still a lot of fun watching them try. But I expect to see them back to their usual in the next book in the series, Murder in the Dark, the next time I’m looking for a bit of snark served up with my paranormal problem solving!

Review: Death Shall Come by Simon R. Green

Review: Death Shall Come by Simon R. GreenDeath Shall Come by Simon R. Green
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook
Genres: mystery, science fiction, urban fantasy
Series: Ishmael Jones #4
Pages: 185
Published by Severn House Publishers on September 1, 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads


Ishmael Jones is faced with a dead body and a missing mummy in this highly entertaining, genre-blending mystery.

Death shall come on swift wings to whoever desecrates this tomb ...

Ishmael Jones and his partner Penny have been summoned to remote Cardavan House, home of the world's largest private collection of Ancient Egyptian artefacts, for the unveiling of George Cardavan's latest acquisition: a bone fide Egyptian mummy.

When a bloodstained body is discovered beside the empty sarcophagus, Ishmael is dismissive of the theory that the mummy's curse is to blame. Instead he sets out to uncover the human killer responsible. But how can Ishmael explain the strange, shuffling footsteps that creep along the corridors? Who is playing games with them ... and why?

My Review:

One of the overall themes that runs through the Ishmael Jones series is misdirection. The villain(s) at least so far, use myths, legends and primal fears to direct their potential victims (and sometimes Ishmael) away from themselves and towards pretty much anything else.

Sort of like the way I am currently misdirecting the kitten from all the interesting things on top of my desk that she can break by putting her battery-operated toy on the floor and hoping it distracts her from knocking my tea over and chewing my phone.

By the way, it’s not working on the cat. And it usually doesn’t work on Ishmael Jones, either.

In previous books in this series, the creepy misdirection has either been ghosts (The Dark Side of the Road and Dead Man Walking) or family monsters like the Hound of the Baskervilles (Very Important Corpses).

Having explored two branches of horror that Ishmael absolutely does not believe in, the phantom of misdirection is Death Shall Come isn’t a phantom – it’s a mummy!

Penny Belcourt, Ishmael’s human partner, loves mummy stories. Actually, so does Ishmael, but he prefers the Karloff classics and she liked the Brendan Fraser romantics. Both recognize that reanimated corpses do not walk among us – not even among the looted and stolen collection of Egyptian artifacts at Cardavan House.

Which does not mean that someone isn’t perfectly willing to exploit the fear of that possibility for their own evil ends. The question, as always, is who is the monster among them. What kind of monster are they?

And can Ishmael and Penny stop them before it’s too late?

Escape Rating B+: I pick up this series whenever I feel that my snark-o-meter needs filling – because this author’s work is always snarktastic to the max.

Ishmael Jones is one of the Men in Black. He’s also one of the aliens that the Men in Black usually monitor, but in this particular case, the organization that he works for – oh so cryptically named “The Organization” – does not know, at least as far as Ishmael knows, that he is not exactly from around here.

What they do know is that he has secrets to keep – and so do they. So when his boss asks him to come to the remote family pile and pretend to be an Egyptologist, Ishmael goes along with the game. His Colonel will “owe him one” and Ishmael knows that someday he’ll need to collect.

The setup is very reminiscent of an English country house mystery, as are all of the books in the series so far. But this isn’t cozy, it’s way more like Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None. Ishmael can’t prevent all of the deaths, but he can try to keep the numbers from reducing to that “none”.

Sometimes he’s more successful than others.

Part of the fun of the series is the way that the standard horror tropes get turned on their heads. Ishmael does not believe in the supernatural – but that doesn’t mean that the people he is attempting to protect don’t. They get spooked pretty easily, and he usually spends a fair bit of time trying to keep them together for their own good – and he usually fails. He also usually has something snarky to say about it.

Early in the series, I said that Ishmael reminds me of Captain Jack Harkness in the Doctor Who and Torchwood series(es) . And that’s still true. Both in the sense of their immortality and in the sense that they both have holes in their memories, and that sometimes things that no one wants to meet jump out at them from one of those holes.

In the end, that’s what flips this series from mystery/horror to science fiction. Mummies don’t walk, but strange, weird and dangerous things do fall out of the sky. Ishmael should know – after all, he’s one of them.

Read this series with the lights on, and not right before bedtime. I made the mistake of reading this right before I went to sleep, and it gave me really, really weird dreams. But not scary enough to scare me off from coming back Into the Thinnest of Air the next time my snark-o-meter needs a re-charge.

Review: Very Important Corpses by Simon R. Green

Review: Very Important Corpses by Simon R. GreenVery Important Corpses (Ishmael Jones, #3) by Simon R. Green
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, large print, paperback, ebook
Genres: horror, mystery, science fiction, urban fantasy
Series: Ishmael Jones #3
Pages: 201
Published by Severn House Publishers on March 1, 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Ishmael Jones travels to the Scottish Highlands on a mysterious dual mission in this intriguing, genre-blending mystery. The Organisation has despatched Ishmael and his partner Penny to Coronach House on the shores of Loch Ness where the secretive but highly influential Baphamet Group are holding their annual meeting. The Organisation believes an imposter has infiltrated the Group and they have instructed Ishmael to root him or her out. It s not Ishmael s only mission. The first agent sent by the Organisation has been found dead in her room, murdered in a horribly gruesome manner. Ishmael must also discover who killed his fellow agent, Jennifer Rifkin and why. Dismissive of rumours that the legendary Coronach Creature is behind Jennifer s death, Ishmael sets out to expose the human killer in their midst. But he must act fast before any more Very Important People are killed."

My Review:

Once upon a time, a tour guide told me that “sightings of the monster are directly related to consumption of the Highland beverage.” In other words, if you stand around Loch Ness and drink enough Scotch, you’ll definitely improve your odds of seeing Nessie. Or possibly two or three Nessies, depending on how many bottles you need to find the monster in the lake.

Alternatively, as Penny Belcourt discovers in this third book in the Ishmael Jones series, (after The Dark Side of the Road and Dead Man Walking) all she has to do is go with Ishmael to one of his assignments for the mysterious “Organization” and she’s bound to see A monster if not THE monster.

Whether that’s an actual monster, or just the monster that lurks inside entirely too many of the “people” that the Organization sends Ishmael to deal with, is generally a toss up. It certainly pays to be prepared for either eventuality – and every other they can think of. In their line of work, paranoia isn’t a psychological condition – it’s more of a survival trait.

And if there’s one thing Ishmael Jones is good at, it’s survival. He’s been successfully surviving, and hiding in not so plain sight, since his space ship crashed in 1963 and turned him into a reasonable facsimile of a human male in his mid-20s. Just with a few useful and additional skills as well as an unchanging face and body. Ishmael has been 25 or thereabouts for over 50 years now, and it’s getting harder to hide.

Hence his work for the Organization, which keeps his secrets in exchange for his cleaning up and keeping some of theirs.

That’s what brings Ishmael – and Penny – to Coronach House on the shore of Loch Ness. One of those super-secret cabals that conspiracy wonks love to foam at the mouth about is secretly meeting at this secure and remote house, and that security has been compromised. The first Organization agent sent to figure out what’s gone wrong is dead, and Ishmael is sent to solve the mystery, clean up the mess, and make sure that someone gets the message that messing with the Organization shortens the life expectancy.

But the Organization never sends Ishmael to any easy jobs. That’s certainly the case here – especially as the body count rises and the level of wanton destruction that accompanies each body ramps up from merely vicious to downright cataclysmic.

And as usual, the people that Ishmael is supposed to protect all think that they really don’t have to listen to him. And of course they do, at least if they want to live. Not that they all manage that, either.

There are puzzles within puzzles, and wheels within wheels, as the murderer, whoever or whatever they might be, does his, her or its level best to keep Ishmael so horrified and occupied that he doesn’t have time to put the clues together until it’s nearly too late.

Escape Rating B+: Like all of the books in this series so far, Very Important Corpses was a whole lot of creepy fun. It is very definitely horror-adjacent, which makes it just the right book to review for Halloween.

One of the things that I really like about this series is the way that the horror elements are used as set decoration and distraction – and that Ishmael generally knows that’s their purpose. He’s aware that the increasing level of creepy is designed to put him off his game, and he’s determined not to be sucked in by it.

There is a hidden world in this series, a hidden world that Ishmael is definitely a part of, but he knows what’s possible and what actually isn’t – even if his range of what’s possible veers into fairly weird waters. He believes in aliens because he is one. He believes in alien tech because he’s seen it.

He doesn’t believe in ghosts. Or ancestral monsters like the one that is supposed to haunt Coronach House. And in spite of being garden-variety human, AND seeming rather open-minded about these things, Penny doesn’t believe in them either. She just asks the questions about them that Ishmael refuses to ask.

One of the things I love about this author is that the snark-o-meter is always set to high, and this book was no exception. One of the things I’ve been wondering about was whether that trademark snark would also include this author’s usual throwaway references to the other worlds he has created. While those first two books didn’t, this one does. Not in a way that will keep anyone from getting into this book, but just enough to make a reader already familiar smile in recognition.

At the beginning this series reminded me a lot of Torchwood, with Ishmael as Captain Jack. This particular entry in the series reminded me of a very specific episode of Torchwood, Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang, where someone from Captain Jack’s past shows up and we get a glimpse of who and what he was before Torchwood. That same thing happens in Very Important Corpses, where someone from Ishmael’s past turns up, and we learn a bit more about what he’s been up to in those 50 plus years.

And just as it was in Torchwood, Ishmael’s old frenemy is not exactly what he appears to be. While I didn’t figure out exactly what he was, that he wasn’t exactly on the up and up was clear fairly early on.

But it didn’t stop my compulsive turning of the pages, not one little bit. As long as I kept the lights on.

Review: Dead Man Walking by Simon R. Green

Review: Dead Man Walking by Simon R. GreenDead Man Walking (Ishmael Jones, #2) by Simon R. Green
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: mystery, science fiction, urban fantasy
Series: Ishmael Jones #2
Pages: 208
Published by Severn House Publishers on September 1, 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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Call me Ishmael. Ishmael Jones. I am the man in the shadows, that even the shadows are afraid of. The secret agent whose life is the greatest secret of all. And some of the cases I work are trickier than others. " A rogue agent has come in from the cold and wants to spill his secrets. The Organisation wants Ishmael to find out if Frank Parker is who he says he is, what he really knows, and why he has emerged from the shadows after all this time. Ishmael heads to Ringstone Lodge in Yorkshire where Parker is being held to find that an atmosphere of fear and suspicion prevails. As he and his fellow residents are menaced by a series of alarming and inexplicable incidents, Ishmael sets out to prove that it s human trickery rather than any supernatural being behind the seemingly ghostly goings-on. But matters take an unexpected turn when one of their number is brutally murdered, and once again Ishmael must turn detective in order to entrap a twisted killer before they strike again.

My Review:

This was originally going to be my Halloween book for this year, because the Ishmael Jones series, while not horror, is certainly more horror- adjacent than Simon R. Green’s usual books – although the Nightside comes almost as close – with a higher quotient of weird.

Dead Man Walking definitely has elements that would have made it a great Halloween story, because for much of the book it has all the feels of a classic ghost story. An ill-assorted group of people is locked up in an old house where strange things keep happening – including all the hallmarks of a ghostly haunting.

There are plenty of creaking stairs – not to mention hallways. Doors get knocked on and there’s no one there – but footsteps were definitely heard before the knock. People keep ending up dead with no evidence of an attacker – and then their bodies get whisked away when no one is looking – not even the security cameras.

Not that there aren’t PLENTY of those.

Because this particular country house party takes place at one of those secret houses where shady organizations “debrief” people who don’t want to be debriefed and who can’t be admitted to having been there in the first place – but where their enemies probably want to get to them – or at them – no matter what it takes.

One of those legendary shady agents has decided to finally come in from the cold after years of working for the opposition. Not that THAT isn’t a loose term, considering that the Organization that Ishmael Jones works for – and that the shady agent used to work for before he went to the dark side (for very loose definitions of both dark and side).

Frank Parker claims to have all the dirt on traitors within the Organization. But he’s had his face changed so many times that no one can have any possible clue whether he is who he says he is. And while you’d think DNA might be an option – first there has to be a sample to match with. And there isn’t. Not that Ishmael Jones has let the Organization have any bits of him to play with either.

Ishmael Jones has been “invited” by the Organization to come to their little “safe” house in the remote English countryside to assist the official interrogators with determining whether Frank Parker really is who he says he is and whether he really might know something worth protecting him for.

It’s all fun and spy games until Frank’s corpse is discovered inside his locked and secured cell. And those ubiquitous security cameras have no record of the door even being opened – let alone of anyone going inside. Of course they were mysteriously “off” for the duration of whatever happened.

Then Frank’s body is whisked away – and there’s no record of that, either.

And that’s when the fun really begins…

Escape Rating B+: Just as when I read the first book in this series, The Dark Side of the Road, a few months ago, this turned out to be the right book at the right time. I was in the mood for some serious snark – and this author always delivers.

Now that I’ve read the second book in the series (and I’m planning on reading the third, Very Important Corpses, for Halloween) I see them as science fictional urban fantasy. Think of Men in Black. OK, laugh a bit, then think about the premise.

The Men in Black series was about a secret organization that managed the presence of aliens among us. Aliens who usually, but not always, were able to masquerade as human. Ishmael Jones, the protagonist of this series, is both one of those Men in Black and one of the aliens among us.

Sort of on the principle of setting a thief to catch a thief.

He’s good at his job because he knows just how to hide more-or-less in plain sight – and because he needs the Organization to cover for the oddities he can’t hide. After all, he’s looked exactly the same since he crash-landed on Earth in 1963. He also has a few useful and unusual skills, but it’s his unchanging appearance that is the most difficult to completely conceal. In our world of increasing connectivity and documentation, looking 25 forever is hard to hide.

His partner, Penny Belcourt, the last survivor of the mess he encountered in The Dark Side of the Road, is there both to provide him with a link to humanity and to provide us the readers with a point of view character. She asks all the questions that we want to ask.

She’s also plenty badass in her own right.

Like that first book, Dead Man Walking is also a twist-writ-large on the classic country house mystery. Particularly Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None – although Dead Man Walking ends up with a few more survivors. But it is every bit as twisty as possible.

Dead Man Walking is a mystery that turns into a ghost story that turns back into a mystery. And it’s loads of creepy fun every creaking step of the way.

Review: The Dark Side of the Road by Simon R. Green

Review: The Dark Side of the Road by Simon R. GreenThe Dark Side of the Road (Ishmael Jones, #1) by Simon R. Green
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, large print, ebook
Genres: mystery, urban fantasy
Series: Ishmael Jones #1
Pages: 224
Published by Severn House Publishers on May 1, 2015
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A Country House Murder Mystery with a Supernatural Twist

Ishmael Jones is someone who can't afford to be noticed, someone who lives under the radar, who drives on the dark side of the road. He's employed to search out secrets, investigate mysteries and shine a light in dark places. Sometimes he kills people. Invited by his employer, the enigmatic Colonel, to join him and his family for Christmas, Ishmael arrives at the grand but isolated Belcourt Manor in the midst of a blizzard to find that the Colonel has mysteriously disappeared. As he questions his fellow guests, Ishmael concludes that at least one of them not least Ishmael himself - is harbouring a dangerous secret, and that beneath the veneer of festive cheer lurk passion, jealousy, resentment and betrayal. As a storm sets in, sealing off the Manor from the rest of the world, Ishmael must unmask a ruthless murderer they strike again.

My Review:

Don’t worry, I’m not going to do this all week. But Night Fall left me with an epic book hangover and absolutely no taste for the romance I was planning to review today. And then I remembered that I had the first book in this series, that I’d never read it, and that there was a chance that it was not part of any of the author’s many series that were rather conclusively concluded in Night Fall.

I decided not to resist. Sometimes it really is futile.

Instead of anything that I was expecting, the Ishmael Jones series in general, and The Dark Side of the Road in particular, has the feel of a classic murder mystery, in this very particular case a classic, British country house murder mystery. What makes it different is that the series is set in a Men in Black kind of world, where there really are aliens among us – who sometimes behave just as badly as we do.

And the detective, Ishmael Jones, reminds me an awful, awful, wonderfully awful lot of Captain Jack Harkness from Doctor Who and Torchwood, in that he seems to be immortal, at least as far as he knows, and not exactly from around here. But where Captain Jack is a human from the future, Ishmael Jones is an alien turned into a human – or at least a reasonable facsimile thereof – most of the time.

To further the resemblance, both Captain Jack and Ishmael Jones have a few holes in their memories. But Jack only lost two years. Ishmael, at least so far, seems to have lost everything prior to his ship’s crash landing on Earth in 1963. He has hazy dream-fugue quasi-memories, and nothing else.

Oh, and his blood runs golden, not red. Pretty conclusive evidence that whatever he is, he isn’t garden variety human.

The Dark Side of the Road exists somewhere at the intersection of urban fantasy, science fiction and horror. Let’s say it’s horror-adjacent, which is about as close as I like to go.

Ishmael Jones works for a secret organization that’s just called “The Organization”. It’s the latest in a long line of secret quasi-governmental agencies that Ishmael has worked for since he crashed on Earth. The more interconnected the world gets, the harder it is to change identities and hide his lack of aging – among other things.

So the Organization protects him, and he does work for them. He’s a bit of a clean-up man. When aliens, or other weird people, or things, break the law, Ishmael is one of the people who cleans up after. In a way, Ishmael is one of the Men in Black.

When his boss invites him to a country house party for Christmas, way, way out in Cornwall during the snowstorm not merely of the century, but possibly of the millenium, Ishmael battles heaven, hell, an intermittent GPS and an overtaxed steering wheel to reach the place – only to discover that by the time he gets there, his boss has gone missing.

Ishmael finds a whole lot of weird family drama, an ex-lover, an ex-colleague, and finally his boss’s body, decapitated and hidden in a snowman. Or as a snowman. Blizzard of the millennium, after all.

The remaining inhabitants are all quick to point the finger, first at a random stranger, and then at each other. But once the bodies start piling up, it becomes obvious to everyone that the killer is in the house with them.

And that the killer is not entirely human. But then again, neither is Ishmael Jones.

Escape Rating B+: This did turn out to be exactly what I was looking for to get out of that book hangover. I needed a book where I would be compelled to keep turning pages – just to see what happened next. And The Dark Side of the Road certainly had that kind of compulsion.

Along with a high creep factor – but one that is totally appropriate to its horror-adjacency.

The setting does a great job of invoking those classic country house murder mysteries. If you’re not thinking of Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None before the end of the book, you’re not creeped out nearly enough.

The story is science fiction, and it’s horror, and it’s urban fantasy. And it’s a mystery. That’s a lot of fictional plates to keep spinning. The only real SFnal element is Ishmael’s origin. He’s definitely an alien, but over the 50 plus years he’s been mostly human, this has become his planet and we have become his people. Wherever he came from, he can’t go back. And whatever made him human, it gave him human emotions and reactions, but a whole lot of better-than-human capabilities. He can’t actually do anything we can’t, but he does them all better and faster and more efficiently.

The mystery of who killed his boss, and continues killing his boss’ remaining family, moved from mystery to horror. At first it’s a question of whodunnit. But as the corpses and evidence mount, the question moves from whodunnit to what done it, and then to who is masquerading as the what.

The answer to that question tips the story from mystery into horror. Or at least adjacent enough to creep me out a bit – but not too much.

As things go from bad to worse to desperate, we follow along from Ishmael’s head. The story is told in the first-person singular, so we know what he knows, think what he thinks, and feel what he feels. Including the grief, the desperation, the fear, the confusion, and the hope that someone will get out of this alive. Somehow.

I liked being inside his head. Ishmael is an interesting and still somewhat enigmatic character. I’m looking forward to reading more of his adventures – the next time I need another compelling book and/or cure for a book hangover!