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Friday, April 29, 2016

New Novel: J. C. Nelson: "The Reburialists"

Author:  J. C. Nelson 
Title:  The Reburialists 
Plot Type:  Urban Fantasy (UF)
Ratings:  Violence4; Sensuality4; Humor—2   
Publisher and Titles:  Ace (3/2016)

                    PUBLISHER'S BLURB                    
     Burying the dead is easy.  Keeping them down is difficult. At the Bureau of Special Investigations, agents encounter all sorts of paranormal evils. So for Agent Brynner Carson, driving a stake through a rampaging three-week-old corpse is par for the course. Except this cadaver is different. It’s talking—and it has a message about his father, Heinrich. 

     The reanimated stiff delivers an ultimatum written in bloody hieroglyphics, and BSI Senior Analyst Grace Roberts is called in to translate. It seems that Heinrich Carson stole the heart of Ra-Ame, the long-dead god of the Re-Animus. She wants it back. The only problem is that Heinrich took the secret of its location to his grave. 

     With the arrival of Ra-Ame looming and her undead army wreaking havoc, Brynner and Grace must race to find the key to stopping her. It’s a race they can’t afford to lose, but then again, it’s just another day on the job. 

                  WORLD-BUILDING AND CHARACTER INTRODUCTION                    
    The novel is set in a world that is nearly identical to our real world, but with one important exception: the continuing existence of zombies, which are called by any number of names, depending upon who is doing the labeling. Scientists call them corpse organisms, or co-orgs. Field operatives (zombie hunters) call them meat-skins and other names, depending on the length of time they've been dead and on their behavioral characteristics. All of the co-orgs were once ordinary human corpses, but when they become the host of the Re-Animus, they regain their ability to move and to attack as directed. Although co-orgs can appear to be alive and sentient, they are not. Their intelligence and their ability to move come solely from the powers of the Re-Animus that is controlling them and speaking through them from afar.

     Scientists and field operatives disagree as to what exactly a Re-Animus is. The zombie hunters—all of whom carry and wear as many religious artifacts as possiblebelieve that a Re-Animus is an evil spirit, a demonic supernatural being. "The field teams carried iron crucifixes and wooden crosses, garlic and a million other herbs. Relics, they called them." The scientists are still researching the true nature of the Re-Animus, but they are certain that they can explain its powers through logic and scientific research. For example scientists believe that some of the field agents' relics work because "behind every one of these, a principal surely lurked. Herbs, for instance, might interfere with communication pathways in hosts. Iron impurities might disrupt communication. Wood could (and did) cause allergic reactions." 

     The Bureau of Special Investigations (BSI), which has offices all over the world, is in charge of keeping the co-orgs and the Re-Animus under control. In this world, when a person dies, he or she is either cremated (if the family can afford it) or buried with slit Achilles tendons and a pinned jaw to prevent the body from being able to walk or chomp down if it were ever raised and taken over by a Re-Animus.

     The hero of the novel is Brynner (rhymes with "grinner") Carson, the golden boy of BSI and its number one field operative. Brynner's father was the greatest field operative of them all, and his mother, who ran the BSI investigative laboratories, vanished under mysterious circumstances when Brynner was in his early teens. Brynner believes that he was always destined to be a killer of co-orgs. His father trained him hard, introducing Brynner to fighting the dead when he was just a child: "I thought about the first time I met a co-org. Dad brought it home in a box and locked me in the room with it and a hatchet until I took care of business. I didn't sleep for a week afterward." In the scene that opens the story, Brynner is attacked by the Re-Animus and thinks to himself, "Thank God my dad had homeschooled me in corpse-killing," Brynner has been a lone wolf even since he ran away from home several years after his mother's disappearance. By that time, he was living with his aunt and uncle, and his father was wandering the world trying to find his wife. Brynner has learned to dull the agony of his existence by overdosing on sex and fame. Everywhere he goes, people want his autograph and women want to sleep with him, and he's always ready for both. While he's indulging himself in hedonistic pursuits, he can temporarily forget the fact that he has to go back to his real lifedaily battles with a never-ending stream of vicious co-orgs. Like his fellow field agents, Brynner relies heavily on his religious faith. On the pure silver chest plate of his armor, he has "engraved every religious symbol on earth, including the McDonald's logo." Along with his collection of religious relics, Brynner also carries a pair of daggerssilver inlaid with amber and alabaster. Those daggers have particular family meaning and are quite important to the plot of this novel.

     The novel's heroine is Senior BSI Analyst Grace RobertsDana Skully to Brynner's Fox Mulder. Grace is a brilliant, no-nonsense scientist who matter-of-factly states that she is a "confirmed atheist and absolute skeptic." She doesn't believe in anything that cannot be proven through tangible evidence. For example, Grace believes that co-orgs exist because she has seen and examined them. She also believes in the existence of the Re-Animus, but, unlike Brynner, she views it as "a force at work. Probably viral, possibly some form of collective organism. Not an evil spirit or demon." Grace keeps the drama of her personal life hidden from everyone at BSI, especially the sad secrets from her past that keep her practically penniless and emotionally spent. 

     During the course of the novel, both Brynner and Grace undergo a gradual evolution in their beliefs about the religious and scientific forces related to the Re-Animus. 

The novel has a small core cast of key characters:
Margaret Bismuth, Director of the Seattle BSI: She is a manipulative manager who has known Brynner and his family for decades. She constantly berates Brynner for his sexually overactive life style and never misses a chance to belittle him with scornful sneers that he'll never measure up to his father's greatness.
Dale Hogman, field team commander of the BSI: He is Brynner's staunch supporter and his contact at Seattle headquarters.
Dr. Alvin Thomas: BSI Head of Analysis: He and Grace stubbornly share the same science-based view of the co-orgs and the Re-Animus.
Emelia and Bran Homer: Brynner's aunt and uncle who raised him after his mother vanished and his father went off to find her. They are salt-of-the-earth, no-nonsense people who have adopted the symbols and ceremonies of multiple faiths to protect themselves against co-org attacks.
Amy Rust (aka Al-ibna Al-habeeba, aka Alifyahmeenyah): A member of the Grave Services, the renowned Egyptian field agents. She arrives just in time to assist in the transport of a captured Re-Animus and stays to befriend and support Brynner and Grace.
Heinrich and Lara Carson: Brynner's parents, whom we meet only in discussions and flashbacks about what ultimately happened to them all those years ago.
                         MY REVIEW                           
    The plot is based on a new development in the long battle between the BSI and the co-orgs. During a battle with a co-org in the hull of a ship in Greece, the corpse begins to speak to Brynner, calling him by name—something that has never ever happened before—not to anyone. It mentions a past encounter with Brynner, so he knows that this is actually a Re-Animus possessing this co-org. Then, the creature gives Brynner a cryptic message: "The old man's body molders, and now she stirs. Give back the heart, Carson. Carson's blood took it, she whispers in dreams. Carson's blood will pay if it isn't returned." After killing the Re-Animus, Brynner finds a blood-written message in hieroglyphics written on the inner hull—a message that Brynner suspects is a curse or a spell. Before long, Brynner and Dale are certain that the heart in question is that of Ra-Ame, an ancient Egyptian goddess who, according to legend, is source of all Re-Animus. But who is "the old man"? What is "she" whispering? And is it Brynner's blood that "will pay"?

     In an attempt to discover where the heart might be located, Bismuth sends Brynner and Grace to the home of his Aunt Emelia, who has sole custody of Heinrich Carson's journals, all written in his own eccentric style of hieroglyphics. Grace is to translate the journals while Brynner protects her from stray co-orgs. Naturally, things get complicated very quickly. Brynner and Grace fight hard against a burgeoning mutual attraction, deal with some co-org battles, and are stunned when the Re-Animus turns up in yet another host corpse—still threatening Brynner and demanding the heart. As the hieroglyphic messages and verbal threats keep coming, Brynner and Grace are forced to work together to defeat the evil that threatens the world.

     Nelson is a great story teller with a vivid imagination, and he tells a compelling tale here. Unfortunately, his plotting skills are not quite strong enough to keep the reader in suspense as to the identity of the ultimate villain. I spotted the Big Bad (as Buffy would say it) and a Minor Bad as soon as they entered the story, so the big twist in the final showdown scene held absolutely no surprises for me—what a disappointment. The lead characters—Brynner and Grace—are well developed, even though they definitely are mirror images of that famous X-Files couple. Their romance builds nicely, with plenty of angst-filled bumps along the way, and the payoff is terrific when they begin to face their personal demons and become stronger as a couple than they are as individuals. It's all about the power of love.

     If it weren't for the too-easy identification of the villains, this would have been a five-star novel, but even with that weakness, Nelson has created a fascinating world with a new and interesting take on the zombie myth. Nelson has stated that he has an outline for a sequel novel, but whether that book ever sees the light of day depends on how well this one sells. So…give this novel a try so that we can find out what's next for our happy-for-now couple. Click HERE to go to the page for The Reburialists where you can click on the cover art to read an excerpt.

                    THE AUTHOR                    
     JC Nelson is the author of the GRIMM AGENCY series from Penguin/Ace. (Click HERE to read my reviews of the GRIMM AGENCY novels.) A former bee keeper and a Texas transplant to the Pacific Northwest, JC works for a large software company building things you’ll never know about if they are working. He can be found by day drinking espresso and writing code, and by night writing books and playing online games badly. With his wife, four children and a flock of chickens, life is never dull. 

     Click HERE to go to Nelson's Facebook page. Click HERE and HERE to read two on-line interviews with J.C. Nelson about The Reburialists. The first interview includes details about Brynner's adoptive grandparents (the Van Helsings) that are not included in the novel.

FULL DISCLOSURE: My review of The Reburialists is based on an electronic advance reading copy (ARC) of the book that I received from the publisher through NetGalley. I received no promotional or monetary rewards, and the opinions in this review are strictly my own.

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