Plot Type: Urban Fantasy (UF)
Ratings: Violence—4; Sensuality—2; Humor—2
Publisher and Titles: Roc
"Rabbit Trick" (short story, 3/2014)
"Payoff" (e-novella, 3/2013)
Then, out of the blue, Adam receives a phone call from FBI Special Agent Jarrod in Savannah, who needs a mental Minder for a child who is under a kidnap threat. Adam describes a Minder is being like "a spider at the center of the web…I sit at the center of the web, and if I feel a vibration on the edges, I go out to see what it was. If it's a threat, I either shut it down myself or call for reinforcements." Even though Adam wants to stay in Atlanta to support Cherabino, he is forced to take the FBI job because the Guild has given him a very short time limit in which to bring his debt payments up to date or risk imprisonment. Adam's acceptance of the Minding job is also driven by a series of disturbing visions that he has been having for the past few weeks in which he sees himself in a harrowing scene in which a young boy is shot by his kidnapper while Adam himself is on the phone with the kidnapper's boss. In that vision the two men are scary and powerful nemeses of both Adam and Cherabino. The man with the gun is Sibley, a sociopath-for-hire who nearly killed Adam in a previous book, and the man on the phone is Garrett Fiske, a mob boss who has vowed vengeance against both Adam and Cherabino. Adam is terrified of Sibley because he has a piece of powerful coercion technology that he uses to force people to do his will. No matter how hard victims try to resist, the compulsion machine forces them into complete compliance with Sibley's commands.
To most readers, it will be obvious from the very beginning that Cherabino is being framed for the murder with which she is being charged, and there is little doubt that Fiske is pulling all kinds of political strings behind the scenes to ensure that she is found guilty. That is one major weakness of the plot because there was never a doubt in my mind about why Cherabino was being charged, who was behind it, and what the outcome of her trial would be. To expect the reader to believe that Cherabino and Adam can't figure this out early in the game is an insult both to them and to the reader.
The action takes place mostly in Savannah, with Adam periodically checking in with Cherabino by phone when he has time to take a break from guarding Tommy, his young charge. Tommy is the son of a judge who is presiding over a murder trial in which the defendant is one of Fiske's suppliers. As soon as Adam meets Tommy and learns of Fiske's involvement, he is certain that his vision is a true one and worries incessantly that he will be unable to stop Tommy's imminent death. The bulk of the plot is taken up with Adam's lengthy angst-filled interior monologues in which he craves his drug of choice, worries that Sibley will succeed in killing him this time, worries that he isn't up to the task of protecting ten-year-old Tommy, and worries about what is happening back in Atlanta with Cherabino. In between these scenes of anguished emotion, Adam and the FBI team deal with Tommy's cold and caustic mother (the judge, who is definitely hiding something) and with Tommy, a high-strung, nascent telepath whose recalcitrant behavior leads to all kinds of trouble. Tommy's estranged father also plays a small part in the action, although his scenes are awkwardly inserted into the story in a disjointed manner. Even though Adam suspects early on that the judge's secrets are important to the kidnapping threat, he never "sees" those secrets when he peers into her mind. This is a major weakness in a plot that is based on the highly rated abilities of an experienced telepath. How can it be that Adam never picks up a single one of the judge's thoughts that relate to her deep, dark secrets, but he can read all of her other thoughts and emotions? This is a faulty plot device that just doesn't make sense.
Here's a brief update on Adam's romantic relationship with Cherabino: Early in the book, he summarizes it this way: "Even though we hadn't had sex—she hadn't been willing to make the nearly permanent commitment that sex with a telepath implied—we were dating. Four months and change now. And she'd been falling asleep in my arms nearly as long. She'd even filled out the official relationship form with the department, calling me boyfriend in plain text where anyone could read it. It was a miracle, as far as I was concerned." After all of the trials and tribulations Cherabino suffers in this book, their relationship takes a major jump towards the end of the story.
For me, this is the weakest of the books because the pace is glacially slow, the angst is overwhelmingly heavy, and a few of the plot points are weak. Part of the problem is that with the exception of the first and final scenes, Adam and Cherabino are never together. In the previous books, their sardonic call-and-response dialogues acted as spark plugs to liven up the story every time Adam's cold-sweat mental anguish became too overpowering. I'm still sticking with the series, though, because I love the lead characters and want to see what happens in the next chapter of their lives. Click HERE to go to this book's amazon.com page where you can click on either the cover art or the "Listen" icon to read a print excerpt or listen to an audio excerpt.
This world has a few futuristic touches, like smelly polluted rain that can damage your skin and aircars that zoom back and forth on airways mapped out far above the groundcars that still move around the old way. Medical innovations include artificial organs (AOs) of almost every type, which replace today's protocols of drugs and surgery. But other than that, life here looks pretty much like it does in our world.
What a telepath does in this world is explore Mindspace. Here, the protagonist provides an analogy to explain what happens when a person teleports through Mindspace: "Imagine the world is a fish tank....You have sand on the bottom, and a definite ceiling, maybe even a sand castle or two...There's all sorts of fish in it—you...and half the world are shiny orange goldfish, Guild telepaths are those monster Japanese goldfish...Now what happens if one of the goldfish [teleports] to the other side of the tank?...Two things happen. The water's going to shoot out in a little explosion where he pops in, because now you have...goldfish mass where there didn't used to be any, and the water has to move out of the way very suddenly...but the other thing that's going to happen is on the other side, where he started out. Suddenly, the water has the same-sized hole where the goldfish used to be, right? So it rushes in. But the water thing's only an analogy—the way it works in Mindspace, the water moves weird, slow like honey, and what you're left with is a little area where the water is less dense, and comes to a weird little pucker to show you where the fish used to be." (Clean, pp. 18-19) In Vacant, the protagonist provides a more succinct definition: "Mindspace is the space in which minds interact with the world, through a medium no one really understands." (p. 179)
Maybe you're wondering why I haven't revealed the protagonist's name. That's because he tells his story in the first person, and in the prequel story and book 1, at least, no one ever calls him by name, which subtly, but tellingly, emphasizes his "outsider-ness"—his isolation from his co-workers and his total lack of friends—or for that matter, relationships of any kind. To simplify matters, I will henceforth refer to the nameless protagonist as Hero (at least until we learn his first name in the novella, "Payoff." Most of the police officers hate Hero, both for his telepathic talents and for his history of addiction—once an addict, always an addict! His partner is Homicide Detective Isabella Cherabino, a complicated, beautiful, intelligent woman with a tragic past who stood up for our hero when he fell off the wagon, but who doesn't really trust him. In fact, no one in the police department trusts Hero, and with good cause, because getting back on Satin is on his mind nearly every minute of the day and night. In an on-line "interview" with Cherabino, Hughes gets this response when she asks Cherabino how her best friends would describe her: "driven, responsible, absent, obsessed, kind, and the person they call if they're in trouble."
Other supporting characters are
> Bellury, Hero's "babysitter," a retired detective who drives him to and from work, gives him periodic drug tests, and sits in on all of Hero's interrogations—all for the protection of the normals Hero comes in contact with
The title comes from the narrator's first-person description of his role as a telepath on Detective Isabella Cherabino's investigative team. Cherabino has the highest close rate in the department, mostly because, "My help got her a big portion of those closes, so that made me a favorite with her Well, on the days I could pull the rabbit out of the hat." In the opening scene, Cherabino wakes him up so that he can accompany her to the crime scene and "read" the body of the victim—a female police officer—for information about the killer. The story follows the investigation as the narrator eventually realizes, with great relief, that he will be able to perform his "rabbit trick" and solve the crime: "And his mind opened…his panicked motivation falling out like candy from a dispenser. And the rabbit trick arrived—I knew how to get the confession "
This little story adds no new information to the world-building or to the characterization. The entire e-book is 45 pages long, but "Rabbit Trick," comprises only about 2/3 of the content—about 30 pages. It's a nice little story, but if you buy it with the expectation of reading a true prequel, you will be disappointed.
Also included in this e-book are two other short stories: "The Carousel" (revolving around a carnivorous merry-go-round) and "Inky Black Sea" (featuring a lonely sea monster). Neither story is set in the MINDSPACE world. Click HERE to go to this story's amazon.com page where you can click on either the cover art or the "Listen" icon to read a print excerpt or listen to an audio excerpt.
NOVEL 1: Clean
To complicate matters for Hero, he is having trouble staying clean (hence, the book's title). His mind is heavily battered every single day by his co-workers' angry and hateful thoughts about him, and he sees no way to improve his life. All he can think about is the relief that Satin would bring him. Then, another complication makes his life even worse when he accidentally forges a link between his mind and Cherabino's mind. She is already angry that he can read her mind at all (at one point she clocks him in the jaw when she realizes he has briefly read a few thoughts), so a permanent link would be an abomination to her.
As Hero moves forward with the investigation, he has a rare prognostication (vision) of a future scene in which a powerful telepath kills him and destroys Cherabino's mind. From that point on, Hero pushes Satin from his mind and concentrates on protecting Cherabino, for whom he has a hopeless infatuation. The book ends with the requisite showdown between Hero and the villain, but his relationship with Cherabino is left open-ended.
The series world-building is inventive, and the characters are interesting, if a bit too close for comfort at times to Harry Dresden and Karrin Murphy. The plot is compelling, with lots of action and unpredictability, but the tone is so very dark and angry that it sometimes gets in the way of the story. Poor Hero—everyone openly hates him and disrespects him and fears his telepathic powers. Although Cherabino and, especially, Paulson eventually, if grudgingly, give him some credit, it's almost too little, too late. All in all, though, I like Hero, and I plan to give him more of a chance than his colleagues. One copy-proofing housekeeping note: In one lengthy dialogue (pp. 263-264), a set of quotation marks is missing, which is momentarily confusing. Click HERE to read an excerpt from Clean on the author's web site. Click HERE to go to this book's amazon.com page where you can click on either the cover art or the "Listen" icon to read a print excerpt or listen to an audio excerpt.
E-NOVELLA (1.5): "Payoff"
What we know so far about Adam is that he is in his late 30s or early 40s (Note: novel 3 says that he is 39) and has a history of addiction to the drug Satin. Although he had a few backslides during his first two years of rehab, he has now been clean for three years, As is the case with most addicts, Adam has never forgotten the blissful, drug-induced fogs that dominated his life before he managed to pull himself away from Satin, and he frequently yearns for that drugged-out forgetfulness. He regularly attends Narcotics Anonymous (NA) meetings in the company of his sponsor, Swartz, a man who serves as a lifeline for Adam each time he wavers. Adam works as a consultant for the DeKalb County Police Department, where he is the only telepath on staff and is universally distrusted and hated because of his psychic powers and his felony conviction for drug possession.
The plot is closely tied to Adam's years of addiction. The judge who gave Adam parole instead of prison has asked him to find his missing grandson. Adam is quite nervous about this task (and about his workload at the DeKalb County Police Department) because his telepathic powers were completely burned out at the climax of Clean, and they haven't yet returned. Fearful of losing his job, Adam is desperately trying to keep his condition a secret from everyone in the police department.
Adam's desperation ratchets up several notches when the judge gives him just a few days to find out exactly what's going on with his grandson, or he will reexamine his ruling on Adam's case and possibly send him to prison. The story line follows Adam as he investigates the situation, mostly on his own, and desperately tries to get his telepathic skills back. I don't want to give away any spoilers, so I'll just say that Adam's search for the truth about the judge's grandson takes some hairpin twists and turns, and that Adam gradually gets his confidence (and some of his powers) back by the end of the story.
The value in this novella is that it focuses on how helpless Adam is without his telepathic abilities and how tenuous his position is at the police department. The second novel picks up and expands on those elements as Adam gradually recovers most of his powers, but comes close to losing his job. Click HERE to read an excerpt from Payoff on the author's web site. Click HERE to go to this novella's amazon.com page where you can click on either the cover art or the "Listen" icon to read a print excerpt or listen to an audio excerpt.
NOVEL 3: Marked
As soon as Adam begins his investigation, he discovers that the Guild in in the midst of a major split—almost a civil war. On one side are the Cooperists, idealists who believe that the Guild can, and should, coexist peacefully with the human world. On the other side are the Guild First fanatics, who are secretly assembling powerful psychic and tech weapons that they plan to use against normals (aka humans), whom they regard as inferior and essentially worthless. Contributing to the problem is the U.S. government, which is also stockpiling tech weapons that can weaken or destroy psychics. It's like a magical Cold War with one side having the added complication of dealing with a rebellion.
With this novel, Hughes has created another strong addition to the MINDSPACE series. This one is not quite as engaging as some of the earlier novels, but it still packs a magical punch that keeps you turning the pages and holding your breath. I'm always hoping that something will go right for Adam for a change, but so far that hasn't happened very often. At least he's still drug free, although he does take a minor misstep in this novel that may come back to haunt him. Click HERE to read an excerpt from Marked on the publisher's web site. Click HERE to go to this book's amazon.com page where you can click on either the cover art or the "Listen" icon to read a print excerpt or listen to an audio excerpt.