Roc Fantasy, 2007
Poltergeist is the second Kat Richardson Greywalker novel. In the book, a few years have passed since Greywalker, marked by the growth of Ben and Mara’s son Brian from a babe-in-arms to a talking toddler, and Harper Blaine’s increasing proficiency in navigating the transitional dimension next to ours, called the Grey.
Harper is hired by an egotistical and unethical professor of psychology to vet the results of an experiment in the paranormal. Professor Tuckman has gathered together a group of eight people and is attempting to re-create the 1970s “Philip Aylesworth” experiment, creating an artificial ghost based on the group’s energy. Tuckman wants Harper to confirm that the results the group is now getting with their manufactured ghost, “Celia,” are genuine, except, of course, for the results he has already faked, in order to “encourage” the participants.
While she is inventorying the lab where the experiments take place, Harper slips into the Grey and observes a disturbing knot of psychic energy. Before she can interview all the participants of the group, “Celia” brutally murders one of them. As Harper begins to investigate, the ghost becomes increasingly violent, attacking the group members both in and out of the lab.
Richardson is confident in this second outing. The supporting characters are developed and have just enough time and space in the story. Harper’s experiments in the Grey are interesting. Structurally, the plot has a couple of cracks that bothered me. Midway through the book, Harper comes across a piece of information about one of the group members that should be, not only a red flag, but a big flashing red light. She does investigate this, but in a leisurely way. Later in the book, she captures the poltergeist energy in an ingenious magical device, but the entity escapes. The escape is telegraphed several pages in advance and makes Harper seem negligent when she isn’t. Richardson needs the entity to escape so she can get us to the devastating climax of the book, but somehow this is done at Harper’s expense.
Balancing these problems, the descriptions of Seattle are fresh, concrete and witty. In the first book, I worried that Harper had no non-magical friends. In Poltergeist, with the bookstore owner and the restaurant family, we begin to see Harper’s network of friends from before she became a Greywalker.
The story is very dark, and Harper’s pet ferret, Chaos, provides a bundle of warmth, energy and humor to break up the bleakness.
The concept of a manufactured psychic entity, controlled by and feeding on a human collective is not completely new (witness the actual experiment Richardson used as a springboard) but the Greywalker abilities, the well-described settings and Richardson’s characters make this an original use of the element. I am very satisfied with this series and will be looking around for the next book.