This story is basically broken down into three parts (and if you don’t want any spoilers about any of them, stop reading right now!): there’s the backstory in the first third or so of the book; the small amount of time the characters are actually allowed to be happy; and the ending where Austin is possessed by a demon.
One will be hurt and the other one killed.
The opening scene is actually quite dramatic, as the crew of Spirit Chaser Investigations must fight a demon who has taken possession of their psychic Barrett. But, for reasons that we only learn much later in the story, this segment actually belongs with the last third of the book, not the beginning.
The remainder of the first third or so of the book is the slow, boring build-up and stage-setting for the rest of the story. Most of it entails the portion where Austin tries to find a replacement for Barrett, even though he feels that he is irreplaceable. Enter Casey, an old friend of Barrett’s whom he recommends for the job. Unfortunately, Austin and Casey don’t exactly hit it off. To say that he’s a control freak, and she’s stubborn and opinionated, is quite an understatement. This first portion feels kind of stilted and fake; the characters hard to relate to, especially the two main ones. Yet I’m still not sure if that is because of the author’s actual lack of finesse initially, or if it is purposefully done to create an atmosphere approximating the intended feel of the situation.
Thai ran over and pushed them apart. “Let’s take a breath and cool down.” He looked at Casey. “Before someone gets fired.” Then he turned to Austin. “And someone gets sued for sexual harassment.”
It takes Austin making a huge mistake - by doubting Casey’s interactions with the spirit world and bringing in someone else to appraise for the show a site that she had previously deemed void of paranormal activity - and then making an apology to her on air, to break the impasse at which they find themselves. From that time on, while there are still a few bumps to be smoothed out in their relationship, they finally come to see each other as worthwhile individuals, and ultimately admit the unconventional but undeniable attraction that they have for one another.
At that point, for the middle portion of the book, for a small amount of time at least, the characters are actually allowed to be happy. This is where it turns into more of a romance novel than a paranormal story. We learn a lot of the backstory of the main characters, especially Austin and Casey, parts of their pasts that have caused them to be the people that they have become. We also get to see their relationship develop and progress. And witness what is possibly a little bit too much of their bedroom antics. There are a few ghost hunting scenes thrown in, some of interest and entertainment, but nothing of much import or significance. Mostly, it is a brief interlude where two people are allowed to bond and grow as a couple, making a relationship work that hardly anyone would have thought possible; and where the reader is given a brief respite from the real drama that is about to unfold.
And then we come to the last section of the book. This is where it gets truly weird. Austin becomes obsessed with one particular haunted house, to the exclusion of everything else in his life, and ends up possessed by a she-demon who inhabits it. Things just go from bad to worse for the rest of the novel. We are subjected to lengthy, drawn-out descriptions of Austin’s drug- and demon-induced stupors, the horrible things that happen to him and that he does while possessed. We watch the hell that his friends go through trying to save him, blaming themselves for not seeing sooner what was happening over the weeks and months that his possession apparently came about. And then he commits suicide at the hands of the she-demon.
I saw where another review noted that they “HATED the ending with the white hot passion of a thousand suns” – and I could not agree more!! The possession and the interim results of it are horrible enough. There is such a feeling of depression and despair that permeates the time they are at the demon house, trying to help Austin, that it is almost overwhelming. And then it all ends up being for naught when he dies. As Casey states: It’s a pitiful existence when all you have to look forward to is your own death. And then, unbelievably, it gets even worse! She walked over to the bed and sat down next to her dead, brain-damaged boyfriend. I understand that there is at least one sequel to this story in the works. But I can’t imagine what it is supposed to accomplish. If Austin were still alive, it could be the further adventures of Spirit Chaser Investigations. But with him gone, it won’t really be the same. Even if he is around as a ghost, all it will do is serve to make his friends, and especially Casey, sad all the time at what they can’t have with him. Not to mention if they have to deal with results of his brain damage. How does a ghost even get brain damaged anyway? And what can the future offer for him? A peaceful crossing over to the other side? Reanimation as a zombie? Certainly nothing very good.
There were many things about this story that I still don’t understand. Like how the entity stole Austin’s breath in the first encounter of the book and he supposedly died then. The way that it occurred, it basically sounds like anyone at any time could be unknowingly taken over by a shadow entity and not even be aware of it. So why have everything else after that in the story happen? Why would the she-demon do all that she did in her attempt to possess Austin, if she or one of her minions already controlled him? And what his of relationship with Casey? Was any of it even real? Because wasn’t he dead and/or possessed the entire time that they knew each other? And how come not a single one of the so-called paranormal experts all around Austin all the time ever saw what was happening? These points just really bothered me. Hopefully, more will be explained in the next installment.
Regardless of how much I did or did not like different facets of the actual storyline, there is no denying the emotions that it engendered in me. I was apparently really attached to these characters, because I felt so much anger, frustration, despair and sadness on their behalf. I truly had a book hangover from this work, the likes of which I have seldom experienced before!
I received an electronic copy of this title free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.