Trent Jamieson’s first novel Death Most Definite came out last month from Orbit Books US/UK;. In a summer of many Urban Fantasy releases and doorstop sized fantasy volumes this unassuming book with the man in the suit and tie on the cover may have escaped your notice. Trent’s name may too not drwan you; he is not well known outside his native Australia where he is an award winning short fiction writer and editor in SF/fantasy and horror genres. I knew about his work from listening to his short stories read on Psuedopod over the last couple of years and when I saw he had his first novel coming out I was overjoyed.
Death Most Definite brings the personification of Death into the modern corporate world. Trent has been inspired from stories that gave death a face and voice like Piers Anthony’s classic On A Pale Horse, Terry Pratchet’s Diskworld novels, Fritz Leiber’s Sword and Sorcery novels and Neil Gaimen’s Sandman series along with multiple mythological and a movie interpretations to come up with his own twisted setting. Spirits of the dead need a person a Psychopomp or pomp for short to be their gateway to the land of the dead. Mortmax is a conpany who’s real purpose is to employ people to be one part gateway to the otherside one part councilor of the confused departed and one part exorcist. The company tends to be nepotistic insular hiring from the families that already know the score. L
The story starts with an assassination attempt on Steven de Selby’s life in a food court in broad daylight; he is warned by the spirit of a very pretty dead woman who was not scheduled to be there and who also thwarts his attempts to “pomp” her into the afterworld after his escape. Once the second attenpt on him happens its is a cat and mouse game, a noirish Jason Bourne suspense thriller running from Brisbane to the country and back. Steven tells the tale, first person and has a tendency towards interior monologue much like the original cut of Blade Runner; sometimes it brakes the flow of the story but the information was necessary to understand the setting. Steven has no flashy fancy magical powers at his command other then those of his trade and they take blood and occasional preparation. He was not the only one on the hit list of these assassins, the ghost who saved him was another Mortmax pomp as are lots of people that die in the course of the novel. Steven has to go on the run from his safe if morbid and lonely life never really sure who he can trust.
He thinks he can trust the spirit of Lissa the girl who saved him. He turns also the his “black sheep”cousin Tim, who turned his back on the “family” profession, and gets help from another black sheep Alex (a really handy friend to have in the police force). He has to hide out with other Psychopomps also on the run and pray he can trust them and the contacts he has with the remains of the company. Someone wants to replace Mr D, the local regional manager, and gain all the powers that come with the job; and they were willing to kill a whole lot of coworkers and friends to do it too.
I found it really easy to like and identify with Steven. He is a self confessed genre geek going as far to name is dog…. Oh but that would be telling. He is an outcast among his peers even in the company. He is really just coasting in life and no that is not what I liked about him but it made him easier to be place myself in his shoes. He goes through a lot in this novel that sets up Trents series; hell he even take a trip or two to the spiritworld and wait till you get a load of that.
The urban fantasy elements of this book are pretty subtle and the Stirrers (recall the exorcist comment) and their nature create an even more paranoia inducing setting. They can inhabit the bodies of the recently departed and could be anyone. I suspect . Trent is doing something different here and morbid the setting may be he had a good deal of humor in this story, oh and there is some romance too along with all the running suspicion and Death. He’s an entertaining writer and has a great grasp of the things that are existentially frightening and that is one of the things that I liked about his short fiction. Death Most Definite is not the big summer blockbuster event its kind of a sleeper with something a little different, darkly humorous with heart. I hope it catches on; I want to see the characters he hinted at in the climax of the story and there is a much larger darkness on the horizon.
I received my copy from Orbit Books for review.
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