Month: May 2014

GHOST UNDERFOOT: THE SPIRIT OF MARY BELL

Ghost Underfoot Kenneth Harmon’s Ghost Underfoot: The Spirit of Mary Bell is a non-fiction account of the paranormal, told in first person by the author, a former cop. The story unfolds as more of a mystery than a chiller. The Harmon family moves to Fort Collins, Colorado in search of a nice town with decent weather. Harmon, a novice to paranormal investigations, began to suspect that the house was haunted. The book chronicles his efforts to compile evidence and answer the question, “Who is haunting my house?”

Harmon’s story is not an Amityville knockoff. There are no cheap scares or tired clichés. Harmon, his wife Monika and daughters Sarah and Michelle approached their adventure with a good-natured mixture of enthusiasm and trepidation. Harmon’s sense of humor informs the prose. At one point, the family visits a cemetery. Facing the path to the old burial grounds, they decide not to explore any further: “With tails tucked . . . the mighty ghost hunters made a hasty retreat.”)

As the story progresses, the ghost is identified. Mary Bell was a young woman who died from typhoid fever in 1887. Harmon used a dowsing rod to communicate with Mary’s spirit. Because the ghost was so “talkative,” Harmon took the opportunity to ask questions about mysteries of the day, from the Kennedy assassination to the Roswell incident. The answers, always consistent, will surprise you.

Harmon’s tale has garnered some attention outside the literary world. The Biography Channel made the story into an episode of My Ghost Story.

Some of Harmon’s evidence can be explained. He relied on flash pictures for photographic evidence, yielding “orb” photos—reputed to be an effect resulting from the reflection of the flash on dust motes. A subsequent video, featuring a pulsing, living orb, is harder to dismiss.

Harmon knows how to tell a story, using simple, straight-forward prose. The family is smart and likeable. Does Harmon’s book prove an afterlife? I’m a skeptic. (If Jacob Marley had moaned, “Do you believe in me or not?” I’d have likely said, “Sorry, Jacob. Not.”) But I know a good read, and Ghost Underfoot is wonderful. (Five stars out of five)

THE ARTISAN

artisanI have a soft spot in my heart for Ian Fleming’s spy novels. They are irreverent, misogynistic and politically incorrect. James Bond is a shit. That said, other spy novels seem more action-heavy, more serious, more realistic, and much less fun by comparison.

I have a new series to adore.  Dyal Bailey just published The Artisan, following the exploits of Rafaela Ramos, a deadly, diminutive scientist/assassin working for the Federal government. Whereas Bond fought his battles in the shadow of the Cold War, Rafaela operates without a corresponding ideological imperative. Her targets are anonymous assignments, unlike the insane threats to world peace that populate Bond’s world. Good. Let’s not spoil the fun with the politics of good and evil.

In the opening chapter, she knocks out an opponent and finishes him with a kick to the head. (Not a singular event for Rafaela, who is a lethal package.) The professional glee with which she approaches her foes calls to the anarchist in me.

There are villains, of course (though some of them wear the good guy’s colors). But don’t expect traditional bad guys. The author, tongue firmly in cheek, pits her heroine against a performance artist/murderer who films his crimes for the pleasure of a crime family boss, who enjoys the films as a substitute for sex.

Don’t let this brief summary dissuade you. Bailey deftly mixes the creep factor with subtle humor and a break-neck pace to keep the reader guessing—and gasping—at every turn.

The plot is a clever pretzel, with elements of science, lost love and betrayal. I loved every page of the book. And the twist-within-a-twist ending left me yearning for the next volume in the series.