Saturday, September 29, 2012

Title: Three of Swords (Precog in Peril #1)
Author: Theo Fenraven
Cover Artist: Theo Fenraven
Publisher: Voodoo Lily Press (self)
Buy at Amazon
Genre: paranormal
Length: 37k words

An old houseboat, a hot young guy, a couple of murders, and more mysterious keys than you can shake a stick at: this is what awaits Gray Vecello after his grandfather, Graham, is killed picking up high blood pressure pills.

A letter Graham left behind sends Gray and his unexpected ally, Cooper Key, on a journey downriver in an attempt to unravel the mystery surrounding an unknown treasure. On the way, they encounter both friends and enemies, one of whom will target Gray and Cooper for death. One thing working in Gray’s favor: he has the sight, just as Graham had, but will it be enough to save them both?

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First off, I loved the title. Precog in Peril? Shouldn’t he see whatever it is coming? Maybe—it’s an unpredictable gift.


Gray opens the story at his grandfather’s funeral. He never much liked the old coot, but he feels somewhat responsible—what if you saw something coming and didn’t say anything about it? Gray has the Sight, but he doesn’t entirely trust it and hasn’t always acted on what he sees.

The old man had some talent in that direction as well, and also had an old houseboat with a young tenant, both of which he left to Gray. Cooper, eighteen and missing a few basic skills for getting along in life, knows how to run and maintain the boat, so Gray, a hairdresser by profession, lets him stick around, and besides, he’s hot and gay.

The story unwinds in a series of clues, which makes me want to take a stick to the old man—he knew a lot but didn’t share it, even though Gray “was his favorite.” The reasoning seemed both plausible and flimsy, but done is done and now Gray has to sort out what’s going on, with Cooper’s help. They journey up and down the waterways of Minnesota in search of the next puzzle piece.

I liked Gray; he’s both cynical and open to new experiences, being willing to dump his entire life when something intriguing comes along. Cooper isn’t such a vivid personality—his background hasn’t left him as worldly as might be expected, and he’s everyone’s tabula rasa. Convince him he is or could be something, he’s all over it, but he doesn’t really decide values on his own. This includes his relationship with Gray, which is basically a done deal once a third party told him it would happen.

The writing style is smooth but the development is uneven to the point of not being a romance. Cooper’s a trusty sidekick, and he’s going to be essential to the larger story but the real plot is Gray’s abilities and what he can or should do with them, and how to stay alive and free while doing it. The psychic set-up has some standard elements such as being unreliable, tarot-assisted, and that it’s helpful to have a spirit guide. What’s new, or at least new to me, is the structure of the psychic plane.

This story is definitely Act One of a larger arc, since an immediate threat is more or less resolved by the end of the story, but the larger mystery has yet to be completely identified, let alone solved. Hints of a shadowy organization who’d like to exploit Gray’s talents disturb his composure, and the few allies he’s collecting may not be enough help.

The set-up and the setting are interesting enough that I’ll be on the watch for the next installment. So far the plot and relationships haven’t been totally gripping, but the author may uncork something startling in the next segment. 3.5  stars

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