I read Pretty Little Dead Things with shivers down my spine. It’s that kind of book: Gary McMahon creates suspense and no small amount of dread as he introduces us to Thomas Usher, a sometime private investigator who sees dead people. Usher becomes mixed up in a series of grisly murders that all point to something much more sinister going down (yes, more sinister than murder). And he isn’t the only one who is slinging supernatural power. A malevolent being from another dimension has discovered Usher’s powers and is now playing a fatal game of cat and mouse.
Pretty Little Dead Things has an impressive, gritty atmosphere to it—but it also got me down. It’s just not a very uplifting book. This guy’s family dies in a car crash in the first chapter, and then we skip forward a few years and find him kind-of-functioning but still unable to move on. He’s a loner who hangs out with low-life businessmen. The closest thing he has to a friend is a police detective who is dying from cancer and therefore not long for this world. Thomas Usher is not having a good time—and neither did I.
It’s a clever little title, and this is a clever little book. But it never seems to go beyond clever. It’s all surface and no depth beneath. McMahon tours us around Usher’s life and shows us Usher’s power—and that’s it. Usher sees dead people. He can’t talk to them per se, but they can communicate certain things to him in a kind of subliminal way. This should be a very cool power, but the way in which McMahon portrays it makes it the most mundane thing ever. So Usher uses the power to help solve crimes, but mostly all we see of it involves the flashbacks McMahon provides to help flesh out Usher’s backstory.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that I’m not happy with how Pretty Little Dead Things takes so long to get to the good stuff. Most of this book seems like filler—tasty, albeit depressing filler, but filler nonetheless. It doesn’t get good until Usher figures out that the mystery is much bigger than anyone so far has supposed. And even once that happens, McMahon dashes any hope of redemption by writing an ending that, to me at least, was rather difficult to follow. I’m still not sure what happened (or why I should care).
And that’s the bottom line: nothing really made me care about Thomas Usher or this book. It’s written well enough, so if noir urban fantasy is your cup of tea, you might enjoy this. I couldn’t work up the enthusiasm though.