Cosmic Forces (The Jake Helman Files)
Trade Paper, 432 pages, $14.95
Review by Sheila M. Merritt
It is doubtful that Gregory Lamberson’s creation, Jake Helman, will often be mentioned in the same sentence as Shakespeare’s Hamlet. The only reason for connecting the tortured detective and the melancholy Dane in this review is to seize the opportunity to quote from The Bard: “There are more things in heaven and earth…” which is a notion Jake adamantly accepts. The one-eyed private eye must confront amphibious antagonists, personages from The Old Testament, diabolical opportunists, and angels and demons. The author handles most of the narrative expertly; delivering fine dialogue and exciting action scenes. There are, however, expository sequences which stop the tale cold. The genesis and revelations, so to speak, of the mystery are the least interesting aspects of the yarn.
Jake, don’t disregard the “Hell” in “Helman,” is hot on a case involving high ranking, power crazy politicos. Of course, this story thread inevitably crosses paths with the sleuth’s private life. Overlapping plots converge in a rather standard pattern: An attractive wealthy woman, who is unhappily married to a corrupt man, seeks sexual surveillance from Helman. A parallel situation involves a former colleague’s wife and adolescent son. The teen-ager becomes enthralled with an esoteric organization he’s read about online. The cult has otherworldly ties; all apparently benign and full of promises. Seductions factor into both circumstances; though one is more jaundiced than innocent.
Certainly something fishy is baiting Jake. The hook encompasses his prior casework; allusions are made to connections that have resonance and a rebound effect. His dead spouse, who is at once angelic and unpredictable, plays upon the weaknesses and neediness that are her manipulative legacy. Haunted by ghostly memories and plagued by monsters who resemble Lovecraftian ocean creatures, the protagonist addresses distasteful images: “”He saw no eyes, nose, or mouth, just a dozen feelers with tapered ends that twitched in the air like tentacles, perhaps ten inches long and an inch thick. Its hand and feet were webbed and scaly with black claws. All of the visible flesh was as pallid as the belly of a fish. Three suckers, like those found on the tentacle of an octopus, glistened on the inside of each finger.”
Though seemingly at sea, Helman has resources that penetrate the depths. Psychics and arcane entities are at his disposal; the issue is how to interpret their findings. Deciphering of data is problematic when dealing with the supernatural. Revenants and demons demand attention, but they shrink in substance when compared to deities and biblical beings. And it is here that the tale lapses into the area of “Too Much Information” in terms of back story.
Cosmic Forces is great entertainment until falling into the trap of over explaining. Author Lamberson, and many other writers, could benefit from recalling the “MacGuffin” from Alfred Hitchcock films: an engaging plot device to garner interest, open to interpretation; undefined/unexplained. The importance of it may well be forgotten by the scenario’s end.
Gregory Lamberson’s novel closes with the intriguing promise of the next installment in The Jake Helman Files. Cosmic Forces provides references to the previous two books in the series in a seamless fashion. Lamberson is adroit at affinities, but he needs to loosen up on elucidations that can lead to ennui.