Reviewed by Scott A. Johnson
Written by Gregory Lamberson
Published by Medallion (Random House)
Gregory Lamberson is a man of many talents. Most recently praised for his filmmaking (see our review of Slime City Massacre), we can’t forget that he is also an accomplished author. To that end, Lamberson returns to taunt his readers with Desperate Souls, the sequel to 2004’s Personal Demons, and the second book in his “Jake Helman Files” series. After seven years, you might think the character of Jake Helman is a little rusty. You’d be wrong.
Picking up just a short while after the end of Personal Demons, Desperate Souls drags us back into the messed up life of former-cop-now-private-eye Jake Helman. After the mess of drugs and terror his life became at the hands of the serial killer “The Cypher,” Helman has opened up his own private investigation practice in the hopes of making a quiet living snapping photos and following unfaithful lovers around. Of course, if that was all that happened, we wouldn’t have much of a story to read. A new drug has appeared on the streets, Black Magic, and it’s killing its users. The problem is, they’re not staying that way. Helman winds up tightly entwined in the investigation and discovers an all-too-familiar world of greed, pain, and the supernatural. And if he’s not careful, it could cost him his life.
Desperate Souls is a dark and broody noir piece that hearkens back to the world of Mickey Spillane and Dashiell Hammett, where the good guys aren’t always so good, and the bad guys aren’t always the ones you need to worry about. The character of Jake Helman is very much cast from the same mold of Sam Spade, Mike Hammer, and Philip Marlowe in that he isn’t afraid to bend rules to get the job done, and he’s never really sure who to trust. His past haunts him, and we, as readers, get to see him struggle to overcome his past drug addiction, the deaths he caused, and the mistakes that cost him not only his job, but his family. While he’s not an “everyman,” he is the kind of fellow that most guys would want to be like.
Plot-wise, the story is very straightforward, though there are a few twists that keep the reader guessing. There are also moments where a lesser author would go for the easy out, leaving the reader breathless as the hero comes through unscathed. Lamberson, however, is fearless in the amount of abuse Helman takes, and the reader will sit and cringe with every blood-soaked page. It is Lamberson’s ability to take his characters right to the edge and drive them over that is one of the real strengths of this book. And no matter what happens, Helman’s personal code of right and wrong carries him through so that we readers know, no matter how bloody and battered, he will keep going until the job is done.
Which is not to say that Desperate Souls is perfect. To be sure, there are a few problems that’ll probably drive any English teacher a little crazy, but the story is compelling enough that any complaints come down to nitpicking. The bottom line is, like Helman, the story may not always be pretty, but it works and gets the job done.
4 out of 5
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