Older’s concept is simple enough: Our hero, Carlos Delacruz, is in between life and death, the only one of his kind–so he thinks. Within the first five pages, Carlos learns he’s not alone, and that his very nature may be integral to some next-level weirdness haunting Brooklyn.
And simple works. The world of the dead and those in-between is easy and familiar. Older doesn’t bog down his fictional Brookyln with too many new concepts or weird creatures; everything has a purpose and feels naturally unnatural.
But if there’s one element that shines above the others, it’s voice. This is prime “thrillaminnut” urban fantasy, quick and easy to read, and the prose just slides. Older balances a first-person present tense narrative with great characterization and an immensely likable hero–although, to be fair, Carlos suffers from being reactive more than proactive. A little too much of the book’s first half was spent with our protagonist being generally clueless and running into plot solutions rather than hunting them down, but it fits the tone well enough.
Voice aside, Older’s prose shines. I liked how each part of the book was headlined with a poem by Gloria Anzaldúa. Backstory and introspection came at all the right points to keep the pace unrelenting. The world has a Men in Black feel that’s ripe for further adventure, and as this is the first of a series, I’m curious to see what happens next in the Bone Street Rumba.
My only criticism of substance is that the initial premise–Carlos being “unique” as an entity caught between alive and dead–is relevant for all of five minutes, and seems to exist to kick off the plot. I didn’t feel as invested or convinced as to why Carlos went so long before discovering others like him, but as most of the novel is spent exploring how disjointed it is to come back from death, I can forgive that initial bump.
Lovers of urban fantasy will dig this fresh, fast book told with a great voice. If you like ghosts and the afterlife, want an easy ready, or always wanted to know how a half-dead secret agent for the New York Council of the dead gets a date, pick this one up.
Jared W. Cooper is a Jersey-born writer, gamer, and mostly-coherent genre geek. Between slush reading, writing groups, and editing, he consumes short stories like most people breathe. His reviews, essays, and the odd short fiction piece can be found, sporadically, at Jaredwcooper.com