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Watcher of the Dark
Jeremiah Hunt #3
by Joseph Nassise
Tor, $15.99, 304pp
Published: November 2013

This has been an odd month for wrapping up trilogies. The three Aubry Knight books by Steven Barnes were very different from each other but somehow still worked as a solid story arc for the lead and a trilogy. I'm not sure that I can say that about the three Jeremiah Hunt books, because this doesn't feel a lot like a trilogy at all.

The first, 'Eyes to See', originally published in German, certainly aimed to begin a story arc that would run for three novels but that changed when that publisher persuaded him to shift a key element into the finalé of the opening volume. With his story arc stolen, he continued with the trilogy anyway but I feel that the second book, 'King of the Dead', changed things up, introducing a different tone, an ongoing grounding and a new story for what was clearly a core set of characters.

This third and final book feels like another 'King of the Dead', a new story in a new city and a good one too, but it's an episode in a series that's open-ended rather than the way it all wraps up. Nassise has written longer series, but, thus far, he's resisted going back to this one that's worthy of quite a lot more entries. I certainly want to keep on going into books four and five, but they don't exist in this universe.

Another oddity for this series, however long it might eventually run, is that each book seems like it would work as a standalone. Certain things would be clearer if you read in order, but I think that someone could pick up 'Watcher of the Dark', knowing nothing about Jeremiah Hunt or his world, and enjoy it just as much as someone who's been reading avidly along all the way.

Hunt is an interesting urban fantasy lead. His back story is told in book one and I don't need to recap it here. Suffice it to say that a deal with a devil left him in a strange situation. The deal steals his sight, so that he can't see anything at all in daylight, but gives him the ability to see on another level. In darkness, he can see ghosts and other things that are around us at all times but invisible to us, and he can even borrow their ghostsight to see as they do, which is a little differently to us.

This all happened in Boston but, because he's now being sought by the FBI for an apparently clear-cut murder, action shifts in book two to New Orleans. Hunt is on the road again this time, arriving in Los Angeles and promptly falling foul of the local Magister, who is a very different character to Simon in the last book, the Lord Marshall in New Orleans. It seems that the magical people in charge of cities don't have to worry about things checking their power and can be as good or bad as they want. Carlos Fuentes is definitely Gandalf as a mafia don, as Nassise puts it.

And he has an agenda. Outwardly upset that Hunt would waltz into his city and not let him know, he's really after Hunt's skills for a heist he's working, a heist that's a little different for a number of reasons. He's searching for a key, that's been broken into three pieces, each of which is kept hidden in a mysterious location. I wouldn't spoil what the key does except that the cover blurb does exactly that, so it's no mystery going in that it's a literal key to one of the gates of Hell.

While Hunt can't resist going along with Fuentes and his band of supernatural characters because he doesn't exactly have a heck of a lot of choice, it's a gimme that he really shouldn't let a corrupt Magister actually open the doors to Hell. The man already has one demon working for him. What a man like him could do with a whole army of them doesn't bear thinking on.

Clearly he must be stopped, but how can Hunt possibly achieve that? Not only is he blind during daylight, he's on his own. Denise Clearwater, the witch he worked with in the first two books, is still in the hospital after he stabbed her in the heart during the prior book (in order to save her life, I should add, however weird that may sound). Their other companion, Dmitri Alexandrov, who happens to be a were-polar bear, is with her, so he's on his own.

And there's a further catch, which again I wouldn't spoil except that Tor did on the dustjacket so it'll hardly be a surprise to readers of the hardback. A mysterious character called Preacher has floated through the series with his own mysterious agenda. He's the devil that Hunt dealt with to get his changed sight. He showed up again in 'King of the Dead', doing a favour for Hunt with the promise that he'd get one in return when he needed. Well, he calls in the marker in this book and that complicates things even more.

I've liked each of the previous Jeremiah Hunt books but I think the series is finding its feet at this point. Looking back, the first volume served well as an origin story. It introduces Hunt and explains why he's the way he is, with some exploration of what he can and can't do. It also introduces a couple of companions and sets the stage. It's a great pilot before a TV show's opening season. 'King of the Dead' was fun too, telling a self-contained story while expanding the world that Hunt lives in. This continues that with a new self-contained story and I think it's the best book of the three.

Hunt is developing as a human being here, but other characters are introduced who have as much quirky potential. Ilyana, the demon working for Fuentes, is a wild creature indeed, beautiful but scary, not least because she apparently really enjoys eating spectres. Perkins is a human dowsing rod. Glenn Wagner, a victim of Fuentes's search, is a fascinating character far beyond that. The supernatural creatures they encounter expand the bestiary of Hunt's world as well.

And where they go and what they do is so much fun. One part of the key is in the basement of a Roman Catholic cathedral, which prompts a fantastic heist. I'd happily be on board for a series in which supernatural creatures don't go any further than breaking into cathedrals and stealing esoteric artifacts. A wider story is just a bonus at that point!

Frankly, there are only two problems with this book. One is that it ends not just its own story but the Jeremiah Hunt series as a whole. I wanted this to carry on going for a while. How long do American TV show seasons run nowadays? Twenty-two episodes, right? I'd certainly tune in for the next nineteen! The other is that it ends a little too quickly. There's a lot of agreeable build, but when we get to the finalé, it ends sooner than it should.

Without any further Jeremiah Hunt novels to devour, there are at least plenty more Joseph Nassise novels. I've only read one of them thus far, the first in a series called 'The Great Undead War', an alternate history zombie novel by the name of 'By the Blood of Heroes', featuring an undead Red Baron. I had a blast with that too, so this trilogy has cemented Nassise as an author that I should seek out a lot more often. ~~ Hal C F Astell

For more titles by Joseph Nassise click here

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