“Hope was the candy in the pervert’s pocket, the stereotypical soap in the prison shower, the cheese in the trap. And life… well, life was what happened when you leaned in for a look.”
– All Seeing Eye by Rob Thurman
You know what happens when writers get comfortable? They get complacent and their work inevitably suffers. How many long-running series have you read that have slowly lost their narrative steam? That’s why I LOVE writers like Thurman who seem to thrive on change, pushing themselves to the limits as an artist by attempting bold new creative challenges.
Thurman is, in many respects, much like Cherie Priest – an author who made a name for herself with a critically acclaimed paranormal fantasy series (the Eden Moore saga: Four and Twenty Blackbirds, et. al.). But instead of continuing to pen comparable paranormal fantasy stories, Priest had the courage – and talent – to publish a Lovecraftian horror (Fathom), an urban fantasy series featuring a snarky vampiric thief, and, of course, her Hugo Award-winning Clockwork Century saga (Boneshaker, et. al.), an alternate history series that has all but single-handedly put steampunk back on the literary map.
I’d like to say it’s a dramatic departure from her previous work – and it is, to a point – but it’s so totally Thurman, particularly the cynical, inexhaustibly irreverent undertone.
When Thurman released her debut novel Nightlife back in ’06, I called her “the illegitimate love child of Lenny Bruce and H.P. Lovecraft.” This novel, while certainly comparable, is much more subtle, more sublime, more palatable for readers of all ilk.
It’s not really a ghost story since the protagonist, jaded psychic Jackson Lee, doesn’t believe in ghosts – it’s a “reenacted episodes of ether-recorded violence” story. Okay, forget that – it’s a ghost story. Lee is about as sarcastic and contemptuous of human nature as they come: after surviving a family massacre in his backwoods Georgia home when he was young and being forced to live in a “state-sponsored home for the tragically unadoptable and the permanently screwed,” Lee is now grown up and working as a psychic under the moniker Jackson Lee Eye, The All Seeing Eye.
But a visit from the brother of his former roommate in the state home turns Lee’s world upside down in an instant. After leaving the home, his former roommate, Charlie, went to college, became a scientist, and was working on a project involving the dissociation of awareness from human form (“to be spirit outside of flesh”), when he was killed during the experiment. The death has caused bizarre irregularities and when Charlie’s essence attempts to return, innocents die brutal deaths.
Now, Lee is being blackmailed into helping find Charlie’s essence in the ether before more people are killed – but the psychic who vehemently refuses to believe in God or any kind of afterlife is in for much more than he bargained for when he finally meets the spirit of his old roommate…
All Seeing Eye isn’t a conventional ghost story by any stretch – in fact, it’s unconventional through and through. The protagonist’s staunch cynicism and skepticism throughout leaves readers on edge, not really knowing what exactly is going to transpire until the very last pages. And of course there is Thurman’s acerbic sense of humor: diluted a bit in this novel but still powerful – and fitting.
I for one applaud Thurman for having the courage to write such an original thriller. Although urban fantasy is wildly popular, only those who read urban fantasy have had the opportunity to discover Thurman. Now, with All Seeing Eye, hopefully that audience will be increased tenfold – mainstream fiction readers as well as thriller, horror, and dark fantasy fans should find this novel to be unputdownable.
Paul Goat Allen has been a full-time book reviewer specializing in genre fiction for the last two decades and has written thousands of reviews for companies like Publishers Weekly, The Chicago Tribune, Kirkus Reviews, and BarnesandNoble.com. He is a member of the National Book Critics Circle. You can follow him on Twitter at @paulgoatallen and get all the latest Barnes & Noble book news from @BNBuzz.