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The Late Review: The Hawley Book of the Dead

12th Oct, 2022

Author: Peter Tennant

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Reve Dyer kills her magician husband Jeremy when a catch the bullet trick goes wrong. Believing she is pursued by a mysterious figure called The Fetch, Reve decides to follow the advice of her Nan and return to the family home in Hawley Five Corners, with daughters Caleigh, twins Grace and Fai, and cousin Nathan. Women in the family have unique powers - Reve can disappear, and Caleigh can summon up objects through string games, and there is a connection to creatures from Irish mythology. Also back in Hawley and employed as the town's sheriff is old boyfriend Jolon, and Reve confides in him about what is happening, fearing that somehow this all relates back to an incident in her student days. A powerful magician wants to acquire the eponymous book, which reveals secrets of the past, while his unwitting agent Rigel Voss brings matters to a head by kidnapping the twins.

Published in 2014, The Hawley Book of the Dead (Century hc) by Chrysler Szarlan was supposed to be the first book in a series, but as far as I can discover no further volumes have appeared. That's a pity as, although not quite my cup of tea, it had a lot going for it, with far more elements to the plot than my précis above can convey. I loved the way in which it handled both the world of stage magic and the world of real magic, though as regards the latter perhaps mutant super powers would be a better description of the nature of the Dyer women's abilities. Tying this into Irish mythology and the legend of the Tuatha De Danann adds yet another layer to the plot, connecting the Dyer family to something far greater than themselves and rewriting the history of the human race, while allowing scope for future developments.

There is plenty of 'ordinary' mystery as well, such as who really killed Jeremy and the nature of the afterlife in which he now exists, what happened to the people who went missing from Hawley many years ago, and the fate of the human guinea pig Reve saw when a student. By the end of the book some of those mysteries are solved and others only touched on. Along the way we get some intriguing incidental invention, as with the Hawley Book of the Dead itself and the Perpetual Tag Sale, from which Reve conveniently acquires a magical weapon. Other devices, such as Reve's writing in the Book, Caleigh's visions, and the poetry of the twins, are used to move the plot along and provide the reader with knowledge that might otherwise pass as an info-dump.

Of the characters, Reve is perhaps a bit bland, somebody with no real depth despite the sadness in both her past and present, while Jolon serves his purpose as a love interest and is given a mildly intriguing history, but with nothing about him that is especially memorable. I found the most interesting character to be Rigel Voss, with his back story of dedicated service to a government that let him down when he needed it to believe in him; the subsequent loss of his family and obsession with proving Reve's powers. The figure of magician Simon Magus/Setekh is more illusive, ostensibly the template for an evil genius, but we never really learn enough about him to feel his motives are rooted in anything other than ambition and malice. He does what he does because that's who he is; end of. The children are equally unsatisfying, with no sense that they are anything other than characters in a story, much as the author tries to give them body. More interesting were members of the supporting cast such as the rustic Falcon Eddy and fussy housekeeper Mrs Pike.

I enjoyed this book, but at the same time felt that it tried to achieve too much in too short a space, though perhaps the other volumes in the series would have given the story room in which to breathe. The things that it did well were done very well, but there were other things that it was only competent at, with the author not seeming to be trying too hard. In some ways it reminded me of John Crowley's Little, Big, but the comparison isn't a flattering one to Szarlan's work.





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