A devilish delight of mystery and magic

“Dark Magic,” by James Swain. Tor. 352 pages. $24.99.

James Swain has switched gears. After building two successful mystery series, he has begun a very promising third one.  It’s not just mystery, it’s not just mystery and magic – this time out it’s mystery, magic, and psychic powers. And more.  Meet Peter Warlock. It’s not just a stage name!

Peter performs spellbinding magic at his own theater on the west side of Manhattan. Still a very young man, he is already a superstar. Since his parents’ death when he was a boy, Peter has been raised by friends of theirs, all individuals with psychic powers and various kinds of special supernatural talents. The elders in this group have nurtured him, protected him while preparing him to deal effectively with his other home – the spirit world.

This ring of psychics meets regularly, and their séances can produce amazing results, often visions of forthcoming crimes or disasters. In “Dark Magic,” Peter has visions of thousands of people dying in the Times Square area. The cause is unknown, but they have only a few days to help the police discover the means, the ends, and the perpetrators so that the disaster can be averted.

Working with Garrison, a savvy FBI agent who will act on any lead, even a psychic’s vision, Peter gains knowledge that a demonic group called the Order of Astrum, a group that had murdered his own parents, has planned the impending disaster and has sent an assassin to kill Peter, and perhaps the rest of the psychic group.

James Swain

Now the chase is on. While the suspenseful action builds through the four day time line, several other issues build momentum as well. There is a dimension of Peter that is growing. He is inhabited by a hostile, dark force that is gaining strength and breaking out from time to time. Where does it come from? Can he learn to control it? To whom can he confide about emerging secrets about his true nature?

Members of his psychic family know more than Peter does, but they are reluctant to reveal too much too soon. His assistant, Liza, who is also his girlfriend, cannot get close to him. She knows there is a part of Peter that is sealed off from her. How can there be an intimate relationship without trust and sharing? James Swain artfully complicates his mystery plot with these elements of troubled romance and occult powers.

Is Mr. Swain serious with this spirit-world stuff? Well, sort of. There is a glimpse of tongue-in-cheek humor every so often, and a comic stream trickling through the novel that lightens tension and invites a complex reaction to the paranormal doings. Horror and charm coexist. . . .

To read this review in its entirety, as it appears in the July 11, 2012 issue of the Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the July 12 Naples and Space Coast editions, click here: Florida Weekly – Swain pdf

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