Photo from: Goodreads.com
Author: Daniel José Older
Published 2015 ROC. 978425275986
326pp. $7.99US, $9.99CAN.
Fantasy, Urban, Ghost story, Noir
Available in print, eBook, and Audiobook
Why I Read It
I’ve been following Older on Twitter ever since the cover reveal of his upcoming June 2015 YA novel Shadowshaper. I saw it on Tumblr at some point last fall. I read the description. I fell in love. Then, I found out he had other books, a short story collection, Salsa Nocturna, and a Jan 2015 novel, Half-Resurrection Blues. It seemed like an interesting twist on the ghost story, with the a bit of crime novel thrown in. Ghosts with bureaucracy? A half-dead dude that isn’t a vampire? I’m an avid fantasy reader. I can’t get enough of the stuff. I also like to try new things. I hope I’m not disappointed.
Carlos doesn’t question his bosses. Well, he didn’t before New Year’s Eve.
Carlos Delacruz is a halfie. He’s not dead, but he’s not alive either. Most people would call that a zombie nowadays. Nope, Carlos is an inbetweener, caught between two worlds, not fully belonging to either. He works for the New York Council of the Dead, the regulators of all things dead and not-quite-dead in NYC. At least, they think they do. They send Carlos on a mission to kill a rogue dead guy. All is well, until Carlos figures out the guy is not a dead, but a halfie like him. Still, orders are orders, and Carlos dispatches him fairly quickly. But not before finding out a bit about him, including the guy’s gorgeous sister Sasha. This task sets Carlos on a path that will lead him to the Underworld, make him question his job as hunter for the Council, and read a lot of Herodotus, Nuyorican poets, and Barrows Guide to North American Birds, 1978 edition.
Here’s what I think
It was nice to read a fantasy story that didn’t have vampires and werewolves. The craze in fantasy and paranormal fiction that settled on those two aspects was great for writers, but readers get tired easily. So, a story about ghosts and zombies-that-aren’t-called-zombies, and that aren’t shambling, ravening masses, was a breath of fresh air. HRB also has a bit of noir feeling in it as well. Carlos loves his Malagueña cigars, and has a bit of an obsession with a female character. I even admit to reading it with a typical noir narrator voice at times. You know the one, “She walked into my office with cigarette in one hand and a piece of paper in the other.” It made the story that much more interesting to me. There’s also the investigative angle, which added to the noir feel. Meeting shady characters in bars; having back room confabs. Oh, and tracking down a weed dealer.
The supporting cast is large and formidable. Mama Esther, Kia, Dr. Tijou, Baba Eddie, Dro, Riley, Elton Ellis. I could go on, but I won’t. While each served a purpose integral to the story, some even for just a few pages, none were flat. I cared about them, and wanted to know more about them. Indeed, Older gives each some back story and idiosyncrasies that make them less like vehicles to progress Carlos’ story and more like real people in Carlos’ life.
In writing this review, I was struck by the implications of what Carlos is. “Inbetweener” can speak to a lot of things, such as being biracial, bisexual, or anyone that straddles more than one state of being in the world. Even being Puerto Rican, as Carlos thinks he is, is in-between. A Puerto Rican is also an American, since the island is an American territory. Whether or not the inhabitants and descendants of the island believe this, is a different story. It’s a fine line to walk, embracing being both as opposed to deciding to be one or the other. The issue does not come up in obvious ways in HRB, but it is something to think about when reading it.
I liked Carlos. I liked Sasha. I loved Mama Esther. The ngks gave me nightmares. I would like to know what happens next. All in all, a good story with memorable characters and some emotional depth.
4Q–Readable, without serious defects.
3.5P–Broad general or genre appeal.
Readalikes, courtesy of NoveList Plus
Ghost Story, Jim Butcher
Cerulean Sins, Laurell K. Hamilton
Stalking the Dragon, Michael D. Resnick
Sarcastic, strong sense of place, compelling
Book talk ideas
Carlos meets Trevor, p. 6-10
Carlos kills Trevor, p. 14-15
The Ngk, p. 27
Elton Ellis, p. 111-112
The Burgundy Bar with ghosts, p. 21-22
Book discussion questions
1) Do you believe Carlos and Sasha will be able to get past Trevor’s Death? Why or why not?
2) Speculate as to why Sarco roamed the Earth for so long, hundreds of years, before attempting to break the life-death continuum.
3) How did you feel about the Council of the Dead? Botus? Mama Esther?
4) An interesting dynamic plays out between Dr. Tijou and Baba Eddie. How does this speak to the tension between physical medicine and spiritual healing? Do you think both are necessary to live a good life or is one more important than the other?
5) The ngks have a purpose: to precipitate disaster. What is the purpose of their little bikes?
6) Would you recommend HRB to a friend? Read the next in the series? Read more from Older?
Clues to the Future
Bone Street Rumba, Carlos, Halfie, Ngk, Sasha, Council of the Dead, Half-Resurrection Blues, Daniel José Older, Mama Esther
Awards and Lists
Links to the Author, Interviews, and Reviews
Author website: http://ghoststar.net/
Nuyorican reading: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LYRtAF5opPY
Kameelah Janan Rasheed Interview: http://www.kameelahr.com/interview-daniel-jos-older
FanBros Interview: http://fanbros.com/fanbros-know-daniel-jose-older/
La Bloga Interview: http://labloga.blogspot.com/2015/02/the-la-bloga-interview-with-daniel-jose.html
Literary Escapism Interview: http://www.literaryescapism.com/45690/interview-daniel-jose-older
Publisher’s Weekly Review: http://www.publishersweekly.com/978-0-425-27598-6