Jamie Guillaume – Cape Town’s wickedest man – is in a wee spot of trouble. All around him friends and acquaintances are being killed or harrassed, and the only connection between them is an interest in the esoteric and the occult.
Author Nerine Dorman has a touch for evocative description of places, and her characterisation is oft-times pin-point accurate. However, she’s prone to overly-flowery writing, and her MC is a self-righteous twunt I would cross the street to avoid. Jamie reminds me of every goth “satanist” I’ve had the misfortune to meet.
In that, she does an excellent job of building this egomanicial, self-obsessed magician. And her Jamie Guillaume is a hard character to like., I think that easing us in to the less-shallow side of his character would have made it easier for readers to find a spark in Jamie they can relate to.
And he does have his moments – visiting dying mum in the nursing home, occasionally realising how fucked up he actually is…. His ex Gabby is more likeable, and she seems as exasperated with Jamie’s self-centred blindness as the reader.
The prose picks up after the second chapter when the MC stops desperately trying to convey his self-conscious nonchalance. Dorman’s voice smooths out and we get less of the tongue-tying floweriness of the early pages. There are some amusing lines, like when Jamie is talking about his fellow magicians and their bragging:
“Most of the talk is just a bunch of leg-humping.”
Moving on from writing to story: it seems that someone is offing cultists in Cape Town, and Jamie is set to be next on their list. Our little friend, in an alcohol-fuelled orgy of despair and anger, performs a ritual, and wakes with no memory of what he might have done. He finds a scarab scar on his chest – symbol of the god Khepera; the Burning One who has haunted his nightmares for many years.
More of the local witches and esoteric types get targeted, and it soon becomes clear that right wing Christian nutters are behind it all (as usual).
Then Jamie himself becomes the victim. His house is broken into and vandalised, and his pets tortured to death, his elderly mother dies, someone tries to drive him down in the road, then his esoteric bookshop is broken into and all his stock used as bonfire material. It’s at this vulnerable moment that the reader is prepared to forgive him some of his earlier arrogance and nastiness and feel sympathy.
When the cops turn out to be useless, Jamie decides to get revenge on the fundementalists, and he is both aided and dogged by his level-headed ex Gabby, an assortment of friends and sleazy acquaintances, and the figure of The Burning One.
There are many side characters, and I think it would have been better to narrow the focus a little. The book starts to lag a bit in the last third, and the tension kept slipping. I think that part would have benfitted from less talk and more action.
It also seems that at this point, Jamie takes a back seat to his compatriots, and that may be what made the book flag here – the legwork being done mostly by his friends. If Jamie had been a little more proactive at this point I think the story would have been stronger for it.
The final solution to Jamie’s problems is an interesting tactic – relying more on media and manipulation than violence. Unfortunately the denoument is a little drawn out, although it does succesfully set up tension for a second Jamie novel.
If you’re looking for Urban Fantasy without vampires and werewolves, set somewhere other than New Orleans and the like, and with an MC that exasperates, amuses and annoys, yet still manages to entertain, then you’ll probably enjoy this. Just skip the first chapter.