WATCHER OF THE DARK is the third entry in horror author Joseph Nassise’s urban fantasy series featuring Jeremiah Hunt, the former Harvard professor who, over the course of events in the series debut, becomes immersed in the unseen world of ghosts and other supernatural entities and earns a reputation as the “blind exorcist.” It’s a genuinely entertaining and often suspenseful story that suffers slightly from occasional predictability and forced prose styling.
Taking up immediately after the conclusion of the previous novel (KING OF THE DEAD), Hunt ends up on Los Angeles and hides out in a cheap motel in a nondescript corner of town. A loud knock on his room door jolts him awake one morning. Hunt fears it might be the FBI – who is among several on his tail since his hasty departure out of New Orleans.
Instead, the intruders who crash through the motel room door are a group of Black Arts practitioners who abduct Hunt and whisk him away to an undisclosed destination.
The group brings Hunt before Carlos Fuentes, the Magister of the supernatural community of Los Angeles. Fuentes knows all about Hunt and his powers of “ghostsight” – the ability to see into the otherwise invisible world of spirits that exists alongside of the natural world. As Hunt has entered Fuentes’s territory without permission, he is now Fuentes’s prisoner and must do his bidding. Hunt refuses, until he learns that Fuentes will torture and kill Hunt’s two closest friends unless Hunt obeys.
Eventually Hunt learns that Fuentes and his gang are searching all over Los Angeles for pieces of a Key. Not long after Hunt discovers that this Key unlocks one of the Gates of Hell, and Fuentes plans to use it to eventually rule the entire world. But as Hunt silently plans to foil Fuentes’s mission and escape his grasp, he finds that the Preacher – the shadowy man who gave Hunt his ghostsight – also wants the Key for his own purposes.
Nassise thrusts us into the events of this new story from the opening sentence of the first chapter. Yet knowing that he is also obliged to introduce the Jeremiah Hunt story to new readers of the series, as well as returnees who could use some refreshing, Nassise strikes a delicate balance between the events of the present story and significant back-story elements. He maintains this duel perspective throughout the novel which, at times, dampens the otherwise vigorous pace.
Nassie is wonderfully inventive when he details what Hunt’s ghostsight reveals. Suprisingly, however, this inventiveness falls short when Hunt and the others confront the supernatural adversaries in their quest for the Key. They are mostly your standard issue poltergeists, hungry demons, and vampires. While these scenes are effectively portrayed they seem way too similar after the first such occurrence. And one can’t help but wish that Nassie had applied a little more imagination to his monsters rather than adhere to well-worn characteristics. Then too, any reader of horror fiction has already guessed the nature and function of the Key long before it is revealed to Hunt.
Like the earlier novels, this latest is told entirely through Hunt’s first-person narration. This works especially well in the moments of introspection when Hunt reflects how his seemingly mundane former life transformed him to become a participant in the complex and dangerous world of ghosts and Black Magic. Unfortunately Nassise tries too hard to have Hunt come off cynically “hard boiled” and resorts to comments and phrases that produce more groans than smirks.
Jeremiah Hunt is not the first fictional human to stumble into the supernatural world. Hunt’s story is mostly reminiscent of the Sandman Slim novels by Richard Kadrey – especially this latest Hunt story with its setting in Southern California. But Kadrey is by far the more inventive author with his various, near-surreal secondary characters, and much more at home with sarcastic prose.
Still, the Hunt tales are worth the investment of a reader’s time for their many suspenseful scenes as well as those where Hunt adjusts to life among the spirits. Newcomers would do well to start with the debut, EYES TO SEE, and move their way through the second novel before joining up with Hunt in L.A. —Alan Cranis