From its harrowing opening scene until its highly-satisfying slam-bang ending, Unholy Ghosts grips the reader by the scruff of the neck and never relinquishes its hold. Chess Putnam works as a Debunker for The Church of Real Truth, investigating claims of ghostly hauntings by individuals or families. Chess’ position requires her to either expose the claimants as frauds attempting to cash in on the payments made by the Church to those being haunted by ghosts who have escaped from the Eternal City below ground, or to banish the ghosts to the City in the case of a true haunting. The story begins with Chess in the midst of removing a pesky ghost unwilling to leave. After sending the spirit off where he belongs, Chess cleans up, downs a few of the pills that get her through her days and nights, and heads out into Downside City.
Almost immediately Chess finds herself in the company of Terrible, her dealer Bump’s main enforcer. It seems that somehow the three or four thousand dollars Chess owes to Bump has mysteriously transformed into fifteen thousand. However, Bump has a deal for churchwitch Chess – check out the claims of ghosts at an airport that Bump wants to reactivate for his drug business, banish any real ghosts that may actually be there, and her inflated bill goes away. Realizing she has no choice, Chess goes to the airport the following day with Terrible in tow for protection, and in addition to ghost planes finds evidence of black magic at the site. Compounding her problems, a rival drug lord has Chess kidnapped to explain that if she prevents the opening of the airport, she will be kept supplied with drugs for a long time to come, but if she does not, she can expect retaliation.
Rightly feeling wedged between the proverbial rock and a hard place, Chess attempts to figure out how to do what both dealers want her to, in addition to working on another case for the Church. Feeling true allegiance to the Church that saved her from a life as an abused orphan by recognizing her magical abilities and giving her both a home and a purpose, Chess gives priority to solving their case, which she learns may have connections to the situation at the airport. Unfortunately for Chess, both cases put her in jeopardy, and for much of the time she remains unclear as to whom she can trust.
Though not told in first-person narration, the reader experiences the action of the novel from Chess’ perspective, meaning that occasionally events seem slightly muddled, as one would expect with a drug addict. When Chess feels as though answers hover just beyond her reach, Kane skillfully produces that same reaction in the reader. Seeking to dull the painful memories of an existence missing love and affection, Chess falls victim to, “…the voice in her head that reminded her every minute of every day how worthless she was, the voice she tried to dull with drugs and work but never really went away…” (174). An imperfect though completely sympathetic heroine by virtue of her efforts to do what is right for lost souls, both alive and dead, Chess proves herself worthy of respect from both her colleagues and her frequently unsavory acquaintances and associates.
Kane effectively depicts a dystopian world shrouded in grayness, yet not completely devoid of hope. The reader never loses faith that Chess will somehow prevail, though she does not win every skirmish. Combining religious and social commentary with tactile imagery that creates some truly scary moments, results in a riveting narrative that also provides a fascinating character study. While still stamping the grit out of her shoes acquired through joining Chess on her surreal journey, this reviewer can hardly wait for the second installment in what promises to be a spellbinding series.
- Mass Market Paperback: 352 pages
- Publisher: Del Rey; Original edition (May 25, 2010)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0345515579
- ISBN-13: 978-0345515575