Fresh Meat: Dark Magic by James Swain

Dark Magic by James SwainDark Magic by James Swain is a supernatural thriller (available May 22, 2012).

Did you hear the one about seven psychics who attend a séance? Do you think anything surprised them?

Joking aside, this is how Dark Magic, the new book by James Swain opens. Each week, Peter Warlock and his fellow psychics meet to observe the near future. Armed with this knowledge, Peter and his friends provide anonymous tips to the police all in the hope of averting the witnessed crime. One night, however, Peter—an orphan whose parents were murdered years ago—sees an act so heinous it could destroy New York. The scenes are a kaleidoscope of horror: women, children, and men all gasping for breath, breaking down in convulsions; cars and buses crashing; and, amid all of this carnage, a man dressed in black. The Grim Reaper?

Shaken by the experience, Peter decides to sketch the face he saw in his vision.

Switching on the reading light, Peter stared at the blank pad. The key to stopping the catastrophe in Times Square would be finding the man he’d seen standing in the median. If he could get a drawing to the police, they could track the man down, and avert the disaster. He wouldn’t have to talk to them—just get the drawing in their hands, and call the man a threat. It sounded like a plan, and he began to sketch.

He was a passable artist, and the man’s face slowly took shape. Square chin, a scar on his left cheek, another beneath the hairline on his forehead. Flat nose, possibly broken a few times. Soulless eyes. Whoever he was, he’d lived a harsh life.

Peter passes his sketch along to his friends and to various cabdrivers. With a face like that, you certainly would not want to meet that dark man!

Peter’s day job is that of a magician—not a sorcerer, a warlock, but the kind you hire for parties. At his show, he entertains and amazes the audience with feats of magical exploration. Imagine Peter’s surprise when the man he saw in his vision shows up in the back of the theater! Moreover, during the audience participation session, this new stranger asks Peter to identify what’s in his pocket. Needless to say, things get weird.

Turns out, that face belongs to Jeremy Wolfe, a hit man, wanted by the FBI. But he is no ordinary hit man. True, Wolfe is ex-military, but he has been hired by the secretive Order of the Astrum to assassinate Peter and his friends. The Astrum know about Peter’s talents and those of his group, and are out to stop him. Not coincidentally, the Astrum just may be linked to the murder of Peter’s parents. Obviously, there’s more to the story than just one man out to destroy a city.

As the story progresses, members of Peter’s group start dying.

A high concept narrative, to be sure, Dark Magic reads like something you would see in theaters during summer blockbuster season. I liked the idea of Peter’s group of friends coming across like potential “superheroes,” using their abilities to better society. Interestingly, what I found most appealing is the mixed-up nature of this book. Yes, it’s a thriller, but it has healthy doses of mystery, intrigue, urban fantasy, and the supernatural. Peter, in addition to his supernatural gifts, can be somewhat of a detective. Take this early scene as Peter talks with one of his assistants for the magic show:

“You’re going to love this,” Snoop said. “Row F, seats eight through twelve are five ladies who could be stand-ins for Sex and the City, but actually work in the media department of the J. Walter Thompson advertising agency here in New York. One of them is celebrating a birthday, but I couldn’t find out which one.”

“The birthday girl’s sitting in seat number 10,” Peter told him.

“Cut it out.”

“I’m serious. I’ll bet you lunch.”

“No thanks. How do you know she’s in seat number 10?”

“Simple deduction. Five ladies are out on the town, and one is having a birthday. The birthday girl will sit in the middle so none of her friends will feel left out.”

“Wow. I’m impressed,” Snoop said.

Swain impressed me, too. The author of thirteen previous books, Swain reminded me a little of Dean Koontz in the way he structured the story. In a simple writing style, Swain set the stage, introduced the characters, and then put the pedal to the metal. The more I got into the story, the more I found myself eager to get back to my Nook and see what happened next. That, in itself, was magic indeed.


Vanessa L. Parker is a jewelry artist and avid reader. You can see her work at Betoj Designs.

Read all posts by Vanessa Parker at Criminal Element.

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