Kat Richardson’s Greywalker series is absolutely noir and it reaches the darkest tones ever in the fifth book, Labyrinth. In fact, this book is unrelievedly dark, scary and suspenseful. Richardson topped herself with the fourth book in this series, Vanished; now she has topped herself yet again.
Labyrinth requires one to have read the earlier books in the series; it does not stand well by itself. In fact, I was astonished to find how many clues Kat Richardson had lain about her fictional detective, Harper Blaine, as she told her earlier stories. The way she marshals all of the details previously set out reminded me of the way a lawyer writes a motion for summary judgment — grabbing this detail from that document, another from this deposition, a third from a bit of investigation by an expert, until they’re all woven together to form an airtight case — only here, what Richardson is doing, is formulating a plot that seems inevitable once all the clues have been assembled. It is skillfully done.
In Labyrinth, Harper returns home from London only to step into a nest of snakes — well, vampires, actually — immediately upon her return. Within the first fifteen pages of the book, Harper is attacked by a man — and I use the word “man” loosely — who wants her dead so that she can once again be resurrected, this time with further abilities to not only see but manipulate the Grey, the netherworld between life and death, the place where ghosts dwell and psychic energy has appearance, color and shape. Harper survives that encounter, but is forced to go into hiding at the same time she must be out and around in order to conclude her investigation and make sure she and her friends survive. Fortunately, the vampires she must avoid sleep during the day, but that isn’t sufficient protection when the Grey is constantly clamoring in her head, ever louder, and blood mages who remain fully human are laying traps.
Richardson has shown herself to be an able researcher in Blaine’s past outings, and, while history and geology are less necessary to this plot than in the earlier novels, she uses what information she needs here very well. Her mastery over her character and her character’s past is impressive as she weaves a tight net over Harper, but rarely lets Harper lose control. When Harper is overcome from time to time, Richardson makes us understand and even feel it, telling Harper’s story almost as if she is narrating a documentary instead of writing fiction. Labyrinth is compelling; the writing propels you from event to event, and being able to listen in on Harper’s torment as the Grey reaches ever more deeply into her brain, her body and her soul is fascinating and frightening.
Harper Blaine, a Seattle-based private investigator, was killed on the job. She died for about two minutes, and when she was revived, she could see into the Grey, the strange alternative plane that abuts ours. Harper can see creatures and entities that are only folklore to most of us; ghosts, vampires and ghouls. She can also use the lines that exist within the Grey to navigate time itself. Throughout the GREYWALKER series, Harper has struggled to learn how to use her skills, but the fight has never been more serious than in Labyrinth, as she seems to be merging with the other plane. If that happens, will there be anything left of Harper?
Labyrinth picks up right where Vanished, the previous book, ends. Back from an adventure in London, Harper must face the ancient vampire god who plans to use her to unleash magical havoc on the world. Confronting Harper is not only this millennia-old evil, but her increasing sensitivity to the Grey. On her side is her boyfriend Quinton, the techno-geek-turned-street-person; Mara and Ben, her magical friends; her father’s ghost; and possibly Carlos, a necromancer whose loyalty cannot completely be trusted. In Labyrinth, Richardson weaves together threads of plot she has been carefully laying in the previous four books, answering questions that have been nagging Harper (and us) since the first book.
Richardson has accurately depicted Seattle, parts of Puget Sound, and London in this series. In Labyrinth she gives us a tour of Washington’s faux-Bavarian tourist town, Leavenworth. The description of the town and the high valley it’s in is perfect, but Richardson goes beyond that, making it mysterious and forbidding, as Quinton and Harper track down the provenance of a magical object in the ruins of the house that once stood in the middle of an orchard planted in a spiral.
Harper evolves in this book, but she isn’t the only one. We are reintroduced to Cameron, whom we met as a frightened, victimized vampire in the first book. Cameron has grown into a poised, menacing predator. Throughout this book, Harper fights to maintain her humanity as she is pulled deeper and deeper into the Grey. The most emotional transformation, though, affects Will Novak, Harper’s ex, who has been driven nearly mad by what he experienced in London and is stalking Harper, sure in some way that she can help him.
Harper also has to put some trust in the ghost of her own murderer. You want suspense? There’s suspense for you.
Quinton skirts the edge of annoying perfection in this book, especially when he’s conveniently pontificating about the history of labyrinths. I did remember that in addition to being a rather eccentric street-person, Quinton is a reader, a geek and a former NSA intelligence operative, so it is believable that he would know that kind of thing.
It’s common to talk about “taking things to a different level.” Labyrinth takes the Greywalker series to a different level — a level deeper into the magical system of the Grey. Harper emerges disillusioned, damaged, but stronger. I just ordered Downpour, the next book in the series, because I have to know what happens next.
Greywalker — (2006-2014) Publisher: Harper Blaine was slogging along as a small-time P.I. when a two-bit perp’s savage assault left her dead. For two minutes, to be precise. When Harper comes to in the hospital, she begins to feel a bit… strange. She sees things that can only be described as weird-shapes emerging from a foggy grey mist, snarling teeth, creatures roaring. But Harper’s not crazy. Her “death” has made her a Greywalker — able to move between our world and the mysterious, cross-over zone where things that go bump in the night exist. And her new gift (or curse) is about to drag her into that world of vampires and ghosts, magic and witches, necromancers and sinister artifacts. Whether she likes it or not.