Tuesday, July 9, 2013

"Ghostly Summons" - John Karr (Tribute Books Blog Tour)

"Lars Kelsen doesn’t believe in psychic phenomenon. To him, visions of murder victims are a form of mental illness. Once they begin, options are limited; he can try to ignore them or deal with them by exposing a killer. Only the latter provides any semblance of peace. Temporarily, anyway. Five years into his new life as a programmer, Kelsen—ex-crime beat reporter with a penance he can never fully satisfy—sees a victim.

In person. Upright. Staring.

Typical of such past "Visits" as he calls them, he doesn’t welcome this one. The nude form of a beautiful millionairess in his cubicle means murder has come to the vacation haven known as North Carolina’s Outer Banks. It means he’ll have to go places he'd rather avoid. See things he'll wish he hadn’t. Do things that don't come naturally, like in-your-face confrontation and bending the law. Actually, breaking the law ... but with good intent. It also means dealing with one very attractive county coroner, who pushes his buttons in a not entirely unwelcome way.

So begins Kelsen's return to investigative reporting—complete with attempts on his life, fights, deception, and all the technological tricks, such as GPS and computer hacking, at his disposal. And maybe even finding a new love interest."

John A. Karr believes fiction writing each day helps keep the demons at bay. Ghostly Summons is his first full-length novel for Dark Continents Publishing. DCP has also published his Weird West novella, Ujahwek. He is the author of a handful of other novels: Death Clause, Hippocrates Shattered (scheduled for reprint by World Castle Publications as Shattered), Rhone, and Van Gogh, Encore. His short stories have appeared on webzines Allegory, The Absent Willow Review, and Danse Macabre. More works are in progress and in the marketing queue.

Karr is an ardent believer in the quote by Carl Van Doren (1885-1950), U.S. man of letters: Yes, it's hard to write, but it's harder not to.

Author Links: Website       Twitter       Facebook       Blog       Goodreads
Book Links:  Goodreads       Kindle       Nook       Kobo

The macabre.  What is it that holds such fascination for us?  Certain psychologists who shall go unnamed would argue it is is a "ohmigosh I'm so glad it was them and not me" mentality.  Others would claim we are all inherently morbid and macabre genres of entertainment offer most of us an avenue to explore that morbidity (perhaps an expression of id impulses?) without fear of a jail sentence.  But what about when macabre is mixed with the supernatural?  Well?

The Good
Intricate story?  Check.  Awesome veiling of whodunit?  Check.  Spine-tingling action?  Check check.  :)

Here we meet a reporter who is favored by the unsettled ghosts of people who were murdered heinously.  They, um, like to show up as they were shortly before last wisps of breath escaped their lung and kind of, um, haunt Mr. Lars Kelsen until he does something about their death.  Kelsen has a colorful past of his own from which he is trying to escape (murdered son, divorce, playing the hound dog, etc) by working as a programmer at a hospital...anything to get away from the chilling stares of the deceased as they plead with him to find their killers.

Kelsen blames the images on mental illness.  

The fact that his dog whimpers and tucks tail when these "mental illness apparitions" appear tells me a different story.

Kelsen is a man with a history that contains much heartbreak.  This heartbreak has given him a rather jaded view of the world, one which Karr expertly portrays.  I absolutely loved how well Kelsen's personality came through in Karr's writing.  Such well-done character development I've rarely seen in works that are not first-person (hint: this work is not first-person).  All characters in this work have voices that are true to their unique selves, which if you read this blog with any regularity you know I appreciate this greatly.  Not only this, but they are relatable.  So Kelsen is jaded?  Well, he lost his son and wife due to the actions of another human being.  If I lost my son and husband from similar circumstances, I'd probably be jaded too.  So Kelsen is a little rough and tumble?  Well, he's taken more than a few knocks in the line of the job, as evidenced by scars that are referenced several times with explanations of their origins.  Kelsen makes sense, and in a way that draws people in and makes them care.  You know that rough and huggable-as-a-porcupine character that you know who you can't help but want to hug anyways?  That is Kelsen.  Or maybe it is just because I'm a hugger, but that's the kind of person he reminds of...the one you want to hug despite the scowl on their face.

Karr has an eye for detail that comes through in this book in a huge way.  We as readers get to do some of the work, but I could see the scenes Karr was painting.  Character movements made sense (and, by the way, Karr reliably stated how his characters were moving around....no surprise "wait, wasn't he on the other side of the room?  How'd he get over there?" present here - yayz!).  Things just plain made sense.  Why is there a funny smell mentioned?  Oh, because the ghost is making Kelsen smell the aroma of death.  Why are these people all banged up?  Oh, because....  Explanations for everything are present, there is not a lot of guesswork here, and this I love.  :)

The writing style here is very efficient.  Kelsen is a reporter and Karr makes a point to mention several times the fact that Kelsen - as any good reporter does - takes notes.  The writing style Karr employs feels like a reporters notes in many places.  Crisp.  Efficient.  No extraneous words that simply confuse the matter at hand.  

Oh, and I was completely stumped and surprised by whodunit.  Usually I have a fairly good idea, or have at least narrowed down the suspects.  Here, I had read to 90% of the book, had a fairly good idea of a couple of people who were likely culprits...but too many things didn't add up.  This is not to say the culprit does not make sense, because they do make sense, as do the many facets of their motivation.  It is just to say that I didn't see that one coming.  : )

By the way, here's a pretty cool quote from the book that I really liked quite a lot (Kelsen was helping with an autopsy...not routine for a reporter, but in small towns people often find themselves pulling unexpected double-duties):  

"She had him hold and pull organs as she cut. He’d seen this before, but it still wasn’t pleasant. And the smell. He was glad he hadn’t eaten breakfast. “
Doc, in case you forgot, manipulating human organs is an unnatural act.” 
“That’s why they’re located inside the body, Mister Kelsen. Discourages fondling.” 
“I suppose it does.”

Not sure why, but I was rather tickled by the above exchange.  

The Bugly (bad/ugly)
Let's see, there are a few things.  There are always a few things.

First, I hate.  Fragment sentences.  Even when they make sense (such as in stream-of-consciousness writing), fragments make me halt and pause a little too much for my reading comfort.  A few here and there are forgiveable.  Heck, I've even used fragmented sentences in this blog when trying for a certain effect.  Fragments everywhere are just plain distracting, in my humble opinion.  This book is full of them...and I do mean full of them.  Call me a grammar fanatic if you will, this drove me a little crazy.  Yes, I know Karr was going for a certain effect, and it did fit in with the very efficient writing style he utilized here.  However, it drove me to distraction.  

Second, sentence construction is a bit awkward in a few places.  There were more than a few sentences that I had to read, then back up and reread again to figure out what had just happened. Maybe there were a few more commas needed, maybe a few fewer fragments.  I'm not sure.  What I know is that there were a few sentences (and in some cases entire paragraphs) that made gears in my brain smoke while trying to figure them out.

Third, temporal details were a tad problematic.  I stated above that Karr provides a good amount of detail and things make sense.  This is true.  Setting is set well and people's movements are well laid out (can you tell I pay attention to this?).  However, there were a few temporal jumps that I had to work a little too hard to figure out.  Oh, Kelsen was in the hospital for this-many-days?  Oh, okay.  Oh, it's been this long since the murder...uuuuummmmmmmmm, okaaaaaaayyyyyyy.

Finally, the flow of this work left something to be desired.  It did not flow very nicely.  Again, this may be symptomatic of the fragmented sentences and my feeling that they disrupt writing too much to be used much. It may be indicative of the fact that this is not my favorite writing style in the world, or that in dialog scenes, it was hard to tell in a few places who was talking.  Whatever it was, I felt that even though this is a good work, it bumped along like the ATV at the end...about which shall say no more for fear of ruining a good plot point.

Overall, this is a fairly good read.  I liked it (didn't fall in love with it, but I liked it just the same).  Paranormal + murder + surprises + a loveable mutt that hooked this animal lover (Kelsen has dog) = pretty good read.  There are a few problems with it that knock down the score I shall give it, but mostly because some of these problems play on a few of my pet peeves.  

Overall, on a scale of 1 to 10, I give this book a 7.

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  1. Nora,

    Thanks so much for reading and reviewing Ghostly Summons. You really went in-depth!

    In Appreciation,


  2. I'm with you, Nora. I think John does such a wonderful job in creating the character of Lars. He's someone you want to read more of! Thanks for the review :)