Written by Scott A. Johnson
Published by Library of the Living Dead Press
Stanley Cooper is a regular guy. He’s a former window maintenance guy who worked on skyscrapers, caulking up the seams between the glass outside, dangling from a harness. He likes video games. He’s not particularly handsome, he’s not in great shape, and he doesn’t dress all that well.
He also sees dead people.
Cooper is the hero, whether he likes it or not, of Johnson’s new series The Stanley Cooper Chronicles. Vermin is the first title in that series, and so far, so good.
Johnson takes quite a bit of risk with Vermin and, more specifically, with Cooper. We’ve seen this before. Every element of it. We have the every-guy who can see the dead. We have the reluctant psychic with powers he doesn’t fully understand. We have the paranormal investigator who finds himself in a case bigger than he expected. We have the private eye who keeps running into creepy things. We have the person with supernatural powers and a crew of assistants (scoobys, even?) who help him defeat the big bad.
The risk is simple: how to live in a world built of things we’ve seen before, yet avoid cliches.
Johnson manages to do just that … for the most part. The story is narrated by Cooper, and he’s an endearing character. He lands somewhere between the film version of John Constantine and the reluctant psychic from “The X-Files”, Clyde Bruckman. Cooper was a blue-collar schmo who had something rather bad happen to him: He died. Not for long, but he did die. He came back with the ability to see and communicate with the dead as well as some other assorted paranormal detection abilities. As the accident that caused his death was due to negligence on the job, he’s comfortable enough to not be terribly reliant on a day job, although he’s far from wealthy. Instead he works a part-time warehouse job and spends his time trying to help people who have trouble of the creepy kind. Possessions, hauntings, that sort of thing.
In Vermin Cooper is contacted by a college student who has a problem with her house. Shortly after investigating this, a series of extremely speedy and odd burglaries pop up with some of Stan’s friends. Are they connected? You bet. It all leads to a problem much bigger than bong store thefts and creepy student housing, and before long Stan and his friends are fighting for their lives while trying to figure out who is behind the plague of vermin that are quickly eating their way through Pittsburgh.
Vermin hinges entirely on how much you like Cooper. I liked him quite a bit. He’s a little bland and could use a little color, but overall you have a respectable guy who seems like he’s in over his head just enough to keep things moving. The supporting cast is equally interesting, featuring witch (and possible love interest) Maggie.
Almost more than a horror novel, this is high adventure. The whole affair strikes the reader as very cinematic, almost as if it were an adaptation of a film that hasn’t been shot yet. The action moves quickly, and there’s very little fat in the just under 300 pages of the book.
My only complaints lie in a couple of character motivations and plot points. A character or two go outside of their needed and logical actions but without enough explanation of why they’d do what they did. When the actions cost one character quite deeply, I was left wondering why he’d take such a step beyond a simple “hey, Stan, I believe you.”
It’s a minor quibble. Vermin is a very strong novel and a good start to a new series. The second installment is due out soon, and I look forward to seeing where Stan goes next.
4 out of 5
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