DESPERATE SOULS by Gregory Lamberson (to be released 10/10 by Medallion Press / 262 pp. / tp)
It’s been six long years since the first installment of Lamberson’s "Jake Helman Files," and I’m happy to report the wait for his return was well worth it. If you haven’t read PERSONAL DEMONS (which was re-released as an affordable trade paperback in 2009, also from Medallion) you might want to before digging into DESPERATE SOULS (while not entirely necessary, there are a few "spoilers" in Jake’s second adventure that may ruin the first should one read the series out of order).
In DESPERATE SOULS, Jake’s still mourning over the death of his wife at the hands of the Cipher and trying to get his life back together after narrowly saving the world itself. He still owns a copy of a disc that could bring mankind to its knees…and it comes in handy as a bargaining chip toward the end of this File.
New York City has been infested by a drug called Black Magic; it’s stronger than crack, heroin, and LSD combined, and turns those who take it into zombies; not the flesh-eating type, but the voodoo/slave-types who also become unwilling dealers of the stuff. One day a grandmother comes to Jake’s office seeking his help in solving the mystery of her grandson, Louis; after he left home, she found him a few days later selling drugs—but when she confronted him, she became convinced he was dead. Or undead. No stranger to unusual occurrences, Jake accepts her case and in no time we’re involved in a dark horror/cop/action tale that would please (even) the late, great voodoo horror master Hugh B. Cave himself.
Lamberson throws his characters into some drastic life-changing situations (especially Jake’s ex-partner Edgar) and Jake himself becomes permanently disfigured in a scene that had me squinting for several pages. We learn that the drug-dealer slaves are called zonbies, the product of Katrina, a wicked voodoo priestess who is working with the city’s leading drug lord (and also playing every man she comes into contact with). There’s also some standard "zombies" thrown in for good measure.
While some may think a private investigator taking on supernatural cases may be a bit X-FILES or NIGHT STALKER-ish, The Jake Helman Files is more ground in reality than fantasy, giving each book (so far) a feel that’s all their own.
With as much action-packed fighting scenes as PERSONAL DEMONS, plenty of twists, some genuine scares, and a world where just about no one can be trusted, DESPERATE SOULS is a sure-fire hit for anyone who loves cross-genre horror stories. I just hope we don’t have to wait six years for the third book; this Helman guy may be full of personal demons, but he’s one private eye who’s hard not to like.