Monday, January 11, 2016

Playing Fair in a Supernatural Crime Thriller

Review: Harmony Black (Harmony Black Book 1) by Craig Schaefer

Harmony Black is a witch, and an FBI agent.

Okay, now that you have the premise, you're probably doing what I did when I first encountered this novel: yawning. It turns out, you'd be just as wrong as I was.

Very few authors can do supernatural crime thrillers well, because there's simply too much to juggle, and too many possibilities to breach the reader's "willing suspension of disbelief."

Isaac Asimov did it (notably in the Union Club and Black Widowers mysteries) by making the punchline reveal how there was nothing supernatural involved, the "clever trickster" premise. Stephen King does it in novel after hit novel by linking the supernatural agent to our own dark psyches. His closet-freed Boogeymen are as familiar to us as the natural criminals we read about in the news.

Schaefer does itand does it wellby giving Harmony Black a solid background as an FBI agent before he introduces the magical elements of the story. I'm going to dub this the "just another tool in the crime-fighter's kit" method.

Writers are sometimes tripped up by the idea that magic can solve any problems irresolvable by natural methods. These can be good magic stories, but they are unsatisfying to the crime-novel reader, who wants some feeling of being able to solve the crime ahead of or with the protagonists, the sense that by paying attention to all the clues, the answer is there for both reader and story characters. 

Schaefer avoids this. We see everything Harmony Black and her team see, we get all the clues. Even when they can be contacted, dead people stay dead (a particular pet peeve of mine), while the supernatural opponent does not suddenly acquire abilities it did not have at the beginning of the story.

Put simply, Schaefer plays with the concept of magic as an element of law enforcement and law-breaking, yet still plays fair with his readers. 

Liner Notes:

  • This is Book One, and the next book in this series, Red Knight Falling, will be out in April this year. I already have it on pre-order. 
  • I've promised myself that if Book Two keeps the bargain Schaefer kept with his readers in Book One, I'll indulge in his Daniel Faust novels. There are five of those, and they're already available.