Thursday, July 6, 2017

Review of The Ghost Box by Mike Duran

Reagan Moon is a paranormal reporter working for the Blue Crescent, an LA tabloid. He's good at his job, and one of the things that makes him so good is he doesn't believe. Oh sure, there are strange things out there: cults and designer drugs and brain hacks, but nothing supernatural. Nothing that can't be explained. He hasn't believed in much since his dad died, and his girlfriend Ellie's death less than a year ago only made him more of a cynic.

But tabloids don't pay a whole lot, and if a rich eccentric wants to pay him to talk to a medium, he's game. The problem is that Klammer wants him to make contact with Ellie, hinting that she wasn't incinerated in a freak accident but rather harvested for some grotesque purpose. In grand noir tradition, Reagan is soon dodging the police on suspicion of being involved in the death of said medium. Whether holed up with the Mad Spaniard and his daughters, Kanya and Cricket, in their Asylum for strange artifacts, or following a lead to the Spiraplex, a grand building/science experiment built by Klammer’s old business partner and rival, Soren Volden, and centered around a giant statue of Anubis, Reagan is constantly in over his head.

Mike Duran, the author of The Ghost Box, is known in Christian circles as the author of The Resurrection and The Telling, traditionally published in the Christian market. Both contained supernatural elements that didn’t neatly fit into Christian theology, for which he received blowback from many readers of Christian fiction. The Ghost Box, published independently, is an effort to get outside the narrow restrictions that limit what he can do in Christian publishing. That is something that we here at Enigmatic Mirror Press greatly appreciate. In doing so, Mike Duran doesn't hide his Christian worldview, though he avoids words like "Christian" and "Jesus". He wants to make this story accessible to  those who aren't Christians, without turning them off by evangelical vocabulary. We don't think it's necessary to go quite that far. It's possible to engage with Christianity, as we would call it, without being preachy, or writing what's usually called "Christian fiction", in the sense of being written by and for Christians while avoiding anything the least bit heretical. That said, The Ghost Box would meet Mysterion's theme guidelines, since it deals with Christian themes and Christian cosmology.

It is not about a Christian character, however. Some of the side characters, such as the ex-priest Mad Spaniard, may be, but it's pretty clear that Moon is not, and there's no conversion experience in this book. Or rather, it's not a conversion to Christianity so much as a conversion to hope, an acknowledgment that there's more to this world than the physical, that we do survive after death, and that some of us even go on to something better.

Of course, to get there, Reagan Moon first has to see it with his own eyes. Enter Rival's Curtain.

Rival's Curtain looks like aviator goggles with amber crystal lenses. What it actually does is reveal the world of the Invisibles. Most people can only look through Rival's Curtain for a few minutes without getting physically ill, but Reagan takes to it naturally. And once he sees what's on the other side, he can't go back to his comfortable cynicism. Not only are there ghost currents moving through the air, but there are whole worlds, occupied by such beings as a fiery-mouthed, many-limbed cytomorph, and a burnished angel whom Reagan nicknames Bernard. In Rival's Curtain, most ordinary objects are dimmed, but people can glow, or be ridden by demons, or be revealed to be something not even remotely human. And some objects are revealed to be not so ordinary, such as the Tau, an oddly shaped cross which Ellie gave him, along with the mandate to protect it. Through Rival's Curtain, it crackles with electricity.

The Tau is the key to what’s happening, as Soren Volden’s minions try numerous times to recover it. Bernard guides Reagan and Kanya to Volden’s Spiraplex, where they learn the truth about Ellie's death and the Lovecraftian horrors her murderer intends to release.

Reagan is not a typical hero. He's not particularly brave or bold, and he has an annoying tendency to freeze up or gawk when he encounters something strange. In the beginning, at least, he doesn't really believe in anything, and it takes some effort--and money--to get him moving. Ultimately, it's Ellie that gets him motivated, the desire to first learn the truth of what happened, and then to do something about those responsible. It's pretty late in the game where he begins to grasp that maybe he has a larger responsibility, that those behind Ellie's death may be a threat to the entire world, and that somehow he's the only one equipped to stop them.

By the end of the novel, though, he's changed. Oh, he's still not particularly bold, and he's a long way from knowing what to do with the gifts he's been given, but he's started to see the world in a new way, and accept things which he did not acknowledge before. He's not ready, but he's no longer hiding, either.

The Ghost Box is available for $0.99 on Amazon for the ebook, or $7.49 for the paperback. There is, unsurprisingly, a sequel.

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