I've had 'Watcher of the Dark', the third Jeremiah Hunt chronicle, on my TBR shelf for quite a few years now and I've finally bitten the bullet and found the first two. I've read one other original novel by Nassise and enjoyed it, 'By the Blood of Heroes', which was the opening volume of his 'Great Undead War' series, so I was happy to find that this mixes up genres too.
Jeremiah Hunt feels like a private investigator, even though he isn't really one at all. He feels lived in, aware, driven. The trenchcoat and hat hardly hurt either. He's really a professional fish out of water, the most unusual ghost hunter I've yet met in fiction, partly because everything he does for money is subservient to his primary job of looking for his lost daughter.
This book is told through a set of chapters labelled THEN and even more NOW.
The THEN chapters read like a thriller, all told in italics. Hunt was a mild mannered translator of ancient documents working from home when Elizabeth, his young daughter, mysteriously vanishes from the house. He struggles with not just the loss but guilt at not keeping her safe while his wife was away. He dedicates his life to the search, so much so that his wife leaves him, but a darker time lies ahead.
In between the THEN and NOW chapters, we learn that he went further than the average guilt-ridden loving father of a lost daughter would go. He performed an ancient ritual that stole his sight from him in exchange for the ability to see beyond. What that translates to is no sight in daylight, better sight than the rest of us in pure darkness and the additional bonus of seeing the dead. All of them. And there are a heck of a lot of them around us.
The NOW chapters continue his quest to find Elizabeth, but they begin with a job, forcing a powerful ghost victim to vanish from a building, so allowing its occupants, as undeserving as they are, to live in peace. It's there as a means to establish Hunt's talents but then he consults with the police on a murder and his professional life starts to interact with his personal. What we're in on and he hasn't figured out yet is that someone wants him involved for reasons of their own, someone or something not human.
While the THEN chapters read like a relatively traditional thriller, the NOW chapters are much harder to categorise. Certainly they don't continue in the thriller style, but can we call them urban fantasy? Maybe urban fantasy told through the filters of horror novel and hardboiled detective tale. Would it count as grimdark, given that it's fantastic but acutely down and dirty? It might well. Even as a mixed genre piece, I think it would still play well to fans of straight horror.
Hunt is an interesting character a lot more than he's a likeable one. We do have sympathy for his situation as a parent who's lost a child but can't yet grieve for them, who has given frankly more than we probably would to locate her, who is still consumed by guilt for allowing it to happen on his watch. But that doesn't mean that we like him because he's not particular likeable, so dedicated is he to that one dominant task. We might admire his dedication while sneering at his wife for giving up so quickly, but we do understand a lot of why she left.
He dominates here almost completely, though there are other characters with whom he works or from whom he seeks help. The former means a Boston homicide detective called Miles Stanton, while the latter comprise Denise Clearwater, who's a witch, and Dmitri Alexandrov, a mysterious Russian who runs an Irish pub in Dorchester. To be fair, they all justify their respective page counts but don't come close to stealing any of our attention from Hunt.
The only characters that appeal to us as much as Hunt are the two ghosts who help him out the most, Whisper and Scream. The latter is a hulking presence with the ability to instill dread so intense that he's a powerful repellent, while the former is a little girl who allows him to see through her eyes, an important thing because ghostsight is not like regular sight at all and that is a huge deal to Hunt. Neither can speak and we don't have any identity or background, but both clearly have stories for us to eventually learn.
It's interesting to discover, after finishing the novel, that Nassise had an entirely different ending for this book planned originally and that's in my Harbinger trade paperback edition as a bonus. I won't explain what's in the old ending or the new ending or detail why they're fundamentally different, but I will say that I'm rather happy at this juncture that his publisher in Germany, where this first volume initially saw print, talked him into going a different way entirely. It certainly doesn't stop me wanting to continue right on into 'King of the Dead', but I'll reevaluate that ending afresh at the point I finish that one.
I'm also tempted to drop a hint because I snipped my synopsis in the bud at a pretty early point in the novel. It takes a long while to get to where we understand what's going on and it isn't a mystery we're going to solve from information dropped within the book; we pretty much have to wait for Hunt to figure it out and pass that back to us. So I'll add that this unfolds in New England, Boston to be precise, and that location proves notably important. I don't think that spoils anything and it won't mean anything until you're at the point where things are revealed, but it allows me to point out that I'm appreciative of the depth of background that we end up with. ~~ Hal C F Astell
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