by Anton Strout
Review by Drew Bittner
Ace Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 9780441018444
Date: 23 February 2010 List Price $7.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
Simon Canderous is back--and this time, he's more than hip-deep in trouble. His partner Connor is on leave, haunted by nightmares as he searches for his long-lost brother. The city is in turmoil, with all sorts of supernatural activity flaring up. And Simon's finding that the two are not so unrelated after all...
This is Dead Matter, the third Simon Canderous novel by Anton Strout. Simon works for New York City's top secret Department of Extraordinary Affairs (housed in hidden rooms of the Lovecraft Cafe), where he uses his psychometric talents to fight supernatural evil. By touching an object (or person), Simon can divine its history and discover all sorts of things.
Often, they're things he'd rather not know.
It starts when Simon and his ex-cultist girlfriend Jane go to round up supplies for Taco Night. What begins as a fairly mundane trip to the grocery store becomes a battle when a monster assaults the two. Simon manages to drive it off, with help from Jane's budding technomancy (magic involving technology), but it means loads of paperwork, not to mention an encounter with Allorah Daniels--one of the people at the top of the Department. Even though she is technically one of Simon's bosses, it turns out she has her own reasons for taking an interest in this attack.
Meanwhile, Simon's partner and mentor Connor is on leave, obsessively pursuing a thin lead on his long-lost brother: a recurring nightmare that is leading him into great danger. Simon and Jane cannot let that continue, so they keep an eye on Connor's apartment--and discover a wall-crawling intruder also watching the place. Pursuing him to a shopping center under construction, they find that this particular chunk of ground has been protected from government agencies since Colonial days. What's going on there? A quick visit results in Jane's mystical disappearance and the discovery of a hidden group of supernaturals in Manhattan... whose leader seems to think Connor will fulfill a prophecy.
But things are not what they seem, and factions within this secret enclave are making dangerous moves of their own. Connor and Simon are caught up in a complex struggle--and if they can't figure out what's happening, the battle will spill onto the streets of New York, with oceans of blood to follow.
Strout ups the stakes in this novel, as Simon steps up his game for both Connor's and Jane's sake. He's learned a great deal about his powers, including how to control them, but some situations are still overwhelming and Strout does an excellent job of portraying a psychic with control issues. Likewise, Jane has become a terrific character, from her start as a cultist/librarian to becoming a full partner in Simon's adventures.
This story finds the steadfast and rock-solid Connor in disarray, however, torn apart by revelations two decades in the making. Seeing him handle an impossible situation--and ultimately rise above it--marks some of the best writing in the book.
It would be hard to say much about the villains without giving away key plot points, but let's say that the Department does not know as much as it thinks it does and that even a small but well-hidden group can represent a dire threat. Readers should enjoy it when the truth is revealed.
In the meantime, urban fantasy lovers will want to grab Dead Matter-- Strout's one of the good ones.