“Speed Dating with the Dead” – by Scott Nicholson

Cover ImageWayne “Digger” Wilson convenes his paranormal circus at the White Horse Inn – to give his clients a show, to make a profit and to keep a promise to the dead. The White Horse wants something in return and it will raise Hell to get it.

Speed Dating with the Dead is a supernatural horror that revolves around a kind of paranormal convention that gathers at known “haunted” landmarks – in this case, the White Horse Inn. I imagine such a convention to be like Comic-Con or a steampunk convention as the attendees were completely camp, over-the-top charicatures: mediums, psychics, demonologists and ghost hunters.

Our main character, “Digger” Wilson, runs this show complete with the costume of an undertaker and the heart of a complete charlatan. Yes – he’s just in it for the money. But the White Horse has a significance for him – it’s where he took his wife for a second honeymoon and where they made a rather strange promise. He’s partly returning to the inn to honour that promise. And this is where Wilson’s character seemed a little odd to me. He’s a complete cynic and yet he honours a promise made to his wife which is clearly rooted in belief of the supernatural. So we spend some time looking at both the cynic and the believer in the early parts of the story. It didn’t cause a problem for me as such – it just made him a little interesting. And then there’s Kendra.

Kendra is Wilson’s daughter and she is cynical, tough, independent…and frustratingly stupid. In stories involving the supernatural there’s always at least one character that continues to deny what is going on around her until such time as you want to wrap your hands around her throat. This is Kendra. All the spunkiness-masking-vulnerability and her broken relationship with her father that could and should have been an interesting anchor for me crumbled away when she continued to deny, deny, deny what was right in front of her.

Other than this we had the young hunk dedicated to the paranormal (and future fame), a demonologist who thinks he is on a mission from God, and a couple of White Horse staff that are just as peculiar. And then there’s a cast of ghoulies that rounds out the players and makes for an over-the-top storyline.

The story moves along nicely until all hell starts breaking loose (I mean that almost literally). The story then turns into an even bigger circus. I like carnival rides and this story became one big ride. However, I felt that it was just a ride. The story started making less sense as we were presented with various demons which had decided that the paranormal conference was going to become a free-for-all: manifestations, noises, climate control, possessions, wanton destruction and strange pools of black mist – all present and accounted for. We even had a succubus-style sex death. However, throughout this chaos I kept wondering why and I only received partial answers.

There is an attempt to tie things back somewhat to that second honeymoon years ago that Wilson took with wife and there was some sense there. But it didn’t really cover the havoc being wreaked in the White Horse Inn. And if you thought the deep end was deep enough, one of the characters (a good guy – I think) decided to show off his own brand of berserk. I had thrown away any attempt at comprehension by that stage and was just enjoying the exhilaration of destruction.

I felt in the end that the author was more intent on putting on his own show than creating a tight storyline. I enjoyed it – from the camp to the chaos, but it just seemed to be missing some sense. This isn’t the first time I’ve felt this reading Nicholson. He’s a prolific writer and a popular one and I’m thinking maybe I’m just approaching his books with the wrong attitude. Maybe the ride is the point and I’m too busy noticing something missing that was never intended to be there in the first place.

Rating: 3/5

Price at the time of review: $2.99 US

Available: Amazon

Author site: http://www.hauntedcomputer.com/
GoodReads page: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/8510414-speed-dating-with-the-dead

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