Joe Appleyard is excited to start filming the new season of his television show, The Paranaturalist. Of course, now that they’re with a network there are more rules and interference from the suits, but he’s still working with his best friend Scott and a strong crew. They travel to Pennsylvania to film their first case for the season, a light-hearted business to do with a ghostly owl. But something far more sinister lives in the nearby river and when Joe is nearly drowned trying to save a group of children, he rescued by local practitioner Owen Watson.
Owen is used to the things that go bump in the night. He’s lived with them his entire life. When he saves Joe’s life, he never expects to find a kindred soul in the earnest television personality. Joe starts to realize the world is far more complicated that he ever imagined. He finds himself surrounded by spirits in pain and he is suddenly burdened by weight of managing life without a script. As Joe struggles to understand his growing magical powers and suffers betrayal by the person he trusted most, he must put his faith in Owen to see him safely through the dangers surrounding them.
The Paranaturalist started off with an excellent premise and a strong emotive style that really grabbed my interest. Unfortunately, the second half of the book took a downward turn from which it never recovered. Let’s talk the positives first. The first few chapters are engaging and really drew me in. Joe is so open and likable it is easy to connect with his character right away and, while I struggled with some of his choices, he was still a strong character with a lot of presence on the page. Owen is a little more of an enigma, but I didn’t find this a detriment. He and Joe work well together and Owen’s easier personality is a natural foil for Joe’s higher strung temperament. Additionally The Paranaturalist is one of the few books I’ve read recently where the bad guy is both human and, if not a fully developed, then certainly more than one-dimensional. He is truly despicable and I found myself annoyed that Joe didn’t just kick his butt to the curb. His loyalty to the man after everything he does is admirable, but also rather masochistic. Yet I enjoy a book that gets my hackles up and The Paranaturalist does a great job engaging readers.
So how does a book that starts off so strong, go so wrong? I’m not really sure. Part of it has to do with pacing, as the second half of the book is far draggier than the first and the writing seems a bit stiffer. It loses its natural flow and more than once I had to reread a section because the wording was awkward or I lost the thread of a paragraph. Additionally Joe and Owen get involved in several situations that neither fit their characters nor make much sense. One of them involves a murder and both characters just ditch the scene of the crime. I was utterly dumbfounded by this event and the lack of resolution that accompanied it. There were several issues like this, not the least of which involved Scott and I just found them either baffling or exasperating.
The Paranaturalist starts of strong and while it limps to the finish, the first half of the book is certainly good reading. The characters are well drawn and engaging and their imperfections become endearing reflections of their humanity. The pacing and writing during the second half of the book fell far short of my expectations and were especially frustrating given how much I enjoyed the first half. Normally I shy away from recommending a book with such a Jekyll and Hyde nature but there’s something rather charming about The Paranaturalist and despite its problems I still found it an enjoyable read.
A review copy of this book was provided by Dreamspinner Press.