Body and Soul by Jordan Castillo Price – review

Title: Body and Soul (third in the Psycop series)
Author: Jordan Castillo Price
Genre: Detective, mystery, paranormal
URL: Torquere Press
Price: US $3.95
Other Information/warnings: horror, gore, ghosts, explicit m/m
Summary: Policeman Vic has yet another new partner at work, but the really scary thing in his life is spending Thanksgiving with Jacob’s family. The domesticity of the holiday is followed by a little light house-hunting, and it’s a relief to get the call to go back to work. The urgent case means that Vic and company have a serial kidnapper on their hands, and it will take every resource they have, and every bit of their talent, to solve the mystery. My review: I thoroughly enjoyed the first two novellas in the Psycop series, and this one was also a treat, written in the same humorous, gritty style, with Vic’s distinctive narrative voice a pleasure to read and lending authenticity. Vic is a Psycop, a medium, and his skill lies in interrogating dead people to gain clues in solving major crimes. His boyfriend’s skill is being immune to any paranormal power – that doesn’t stop him being majorly turned on by Vic’s ability.

The joy of this series is how the author interweaves mundane reality with the conceit that paranormality is real and that it’s actually possible to speak to the dead, read minds and predict the future. Once again, the author presents us with a colourful cast of characters, dead and alive, each vividly and distinctly drawn, ranging from Jacob’s American Gothic-like family, to a sad little dead girl who likes sparkly things.

The author also reintroduces some other minor characters like Crash – but it’s in doing so which creates the major weakness in the novella. To be frank, it reads more like treading water – hugely enjoyable and readable treading water, with some wonderfully hot sex and appealing scenes – than a progression of the series and characters. There’s a clumsy info dump on the first two pages which is utterly pointless because the novella will make zero sense to anyone not having read the first two. Crash’s appearance will also be meaningless if you haven’t met him before, and his role in this felt a bit bolted on. Much was hinted, but nothing came of it.

Same with Jacob – the story could be characterised almost as curtain fic (two gay boys buy a house together) though the actual process is much more fun than that sounds – but Jacob himself has one a very small role in the plot, and we learn nothing much about him. He’s not Vic’s partner in this story, has no active part to play in the investigation of the central mystery, and is there mainly to add stress to Vic’s existence by trying to find a place for them both to live. Vic’s actual partner is a bit of a weirdo, but his personal oddity dissipates focus somewhat.

In fact, the entire novella is a bit unfocused – enjoyable in details, but adding up to a less than completely satisfying whole. I also had doubts about the main mystery and the explanation for the kidnappings. While I’ve written nuttier plots myself, I did think this one wasn’t coherent enough to convince at least me. It would matter less if the central relationship between Vic and Jacob had been given a stronger structural role.

However, I’d recommend this one with only a smidgin less enthusiasm than the other two, because it just was such great fun to read. Vic is such a screwed up man, and his life is such a mess, watching him bumble along, managing to keep his head above water and his relationship with Jacob somehow on track, is pure entertainment. I love that they’re such guys too – there’s a declaration of intent scene which had me giggling with delight at them being so anti-romance about it all. Their relationship feels utterly real, as do the characters – this, and the voices, are this author’s real strength and talent. The people leap off the page, and live in your head. You can forgive a hell of a lot of minor flaws for that kind of magic.