Monday, January 16, 2017

Paranormal Suspense, YA Style, from Jon Land and Heather Graham, THE RISING

Several mystery and thriller authors have woven paranormal threads into their work in recent years, and it often works well to highlight the powerful forces that move people into evil -- and sometimes the ones that help them survive, instead. John Connolly's series set in Maine, with Charlie Parker taking his best shot against deep old cunning spirits that hate life, provides a haunting rationale for the worst and the best in his terrain. Canadian Vicki Delany provoked heightened Gothic suspense in More Than Sorrow, and Carsten Stroud used hauntings and history to accentuate the wicked cruelty of plantation slavery in his bizarrely compelling detective trilogy set in and around Niceville.

In THE RISING, suspense author Jon Land turns from his mildly spirit-struck Texas Ranger series featuring Caitlin Strong (most recently in Strong Cold Dead) to partner with romance author Heather Graham -- rather unfairly described as a team of two thriller authors, since Graham's main strengths are in he-she tangles interwoven in her plots, as well as straightforward vampire and haunting threads. But unexpectedly, the duo's progeny turns out to be a sci-fi suspense offering featuring a pair of high school students destined to fall in love -- Alex Chin and Samantha (Sam) Dixon. Fair warning: Just a few pages into the book, it's clear there are space aliens involved, as well as an obscure NASA program. If you can bear to read further, there's an enjoyable page-turning suspense romp ahead, as Alex (an apparently White smart baby adopted by Chinese parents) struggles, with Sam's help, to locate and stop an alien invasion, armed with the basic skills of high-school geeks.

That said, brace for relatively "young adult" language and pacing in THE RISING. Here's an example:
Alex followed Sam's gaze to the black piece of fabric jewelry, which looked shiny as steel. She had straightened out the one she'd unfurled from his father's wrist.

"See?" she whispered.

But then it snapped back into place with a whapping sound.

Alex took it from her grasp and slid the thing that looked like a slap bracelet into his pocket. He lingered over his mother for what seemed a very long time, before pressing her eyes closed, sobbing and sniffling loudly. ...

"I'm sorry, Alex, I'm so sorry," [Sam] said, easing a hand to his shoulder, which felt hot and hard as banded steel.
Compare that to Land's more usual style, from Strong Cold Dead:
Jones unfolded the picture he was holding and held it so Caitlin could see a tall, gangly young man with a bad case of acne.

"Holy sh**," Caitlin said, not believing her eyes.

"Recognize him, I see."

"I spitted him yesterday bird-dogging a protest outside the Comanche Indian reservation near Austin."

... Jones looked down at the picture. "On a major terrorist suspect yesterday, because he happened to be in the same place as you. Then again, nothing just happens when it comes to Caitlin Strong, does it? You are a genuine force of nature, Ranger."
If you're collecting Land -- or Graham -- you'll want THE RISING for your shelf. Otherwise, mystery fans may want to stick with Land's basic Caitlin Strong series instead, in order to keep the wild suppositions within the range of the way every deadly crime haunts its environment and its people. On the other hand, those gathering the YA (young adult) books of mainstream crime authors like Harlan Coben will appreciate this divergence of Land's -- it's really a YA tease wrapped up in adult covers, and it's fun to go along for the ride.

NEXT: Straightforward California crime fiction from Jonathan Moore, and the newest British spy delight from Mick Herron.

PS:  Looking for more mystery reviews, from cozy to very dark? Browse the Kingdom Books mysteries review blog here.

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