A guest review by Jenre
Hunting a notorious hit man, FBI Agent Chase Nozick and LAPD Det. Enrique Rios Ocha delve into the inner worlds of Santeria, Voodoo and Palo Mayumbe. A missing informant, her murdered brother and a ghost from Chase’s past send them on a hunt through mystics and psychic surgeons to find their witness before it’s too late. Can he rely on leads from a child possessed by Orishas? Do cards hold stronger clues than blood? Chase must conquer his own personal demons to bring the killer of his partner to justice and find the strength to take a chance on Enrique.
I’ve read and enjoyed a number of James Buchanan books, but Personal Demons ranks among one of the best of her police crime novels that I’ve read so far.
The book begins with a tense stand off between our third person narrator and FBI agent, Chase and his partner Jason with notorious hit man Garcia. Shots are exchanged, killing Jason and severely injuring Chase. Fast forward five years and Chase is still on the trail of Garcia, except this time it’s personal. Garcia has been tracked to LA where it is feared that he has kidnapped an ex-girlfriend. Chase is teaming up with the LAPD to assist them in tracking Carmen, hopefully before Garcia can kill her. The LAPD cop assigned to work with Chase is Enrique, who is of Cuban descent and also a follower of the mysterious religion Santeria, which from what I can gather is a curious mix of Catholicism and voodoo. The two men have an instant attraction and Chase is surprised at how comfortable he finds it to work with Enrique. Together they painstakingly follow leads and track clues, all the time hoping that they won’t be too late to save Carmen’s life.
There are a number of really wonderful things about this book that I could probably fill many paragraphs, but to save time and stop you all from falling asleep, I shall highlight three areas in particular which makes this excellent police mystery stand out from the crowd.
The first area is in the characterisation of Chase and Enrique. I’ve always loved the way that James Buchanan writes her men and, Chase especially, is a fine example of a man. Chase is the narrator, which means we get to find out more about him and how he works than any of the other characters. He’s a man on a mission – an admirable trait – but that mission is also slowly destroying his life as he is spiralling slowly into alcoholism. I felt that this aspect was done very subtly throughout the book. Chase thinks about alcohol a lot and counts down the hours until he is off duty and the drinking can begin. This shows us two things, firstly that he takes his job seriously as he doesn’t allow himself to drink until his shift finishes, but also that the need for alcohol is still strong – just not currently as strong as his self-will. There’s a very telling scene part way into the book (which I won’t divulge in too much detail here) which tells us just how dependant Chase has become on that Bourbon at the end of his shift and said much about just how finely balanced the war with alcoholism is within Chase. Enrique is seen through the eyes of Chase and, as Chase finds Enrique quite irresistible, he is slightly biased in the way he views him. This leads to lots of descriptions of Enrique’s good looks and his general sex appeal as well as the diligence in his police work. Other than that the character of Enrique is fleshed out through many of the incidental details we, along with Chase, discover about him so by the end of the book I felt I knew Enrique just as well as I did Chase. There are two defining aspects of Enrique’s character, one is his Cuban heritage, shown in the lilt of his accent and laid back personality; and the second is his belief in the religion of Santeria, which is another aspect which stood out when reading this book.
I have to admit I knew nothing about Santeria when I started reading the book. What did strike me though was how easy it would have been for the author to ridicule this religion made up of superstition, saints, devils and a whole host of different types of spirits, good and bad. However, through the patient explanations of Enrique both Chase and I were educated in the ways of the religion so that, even if I did still feel it was a bit weird, I could understand the roots and the basics of the religion. The fact that Santeria is so crucial to the plot, because it is linked to both Enrique and Garcia, also made it important that the reader understands its significance in the lives of those characters. I actually found those parts of the book which dealt directly with Santeria – the scene where Chase has a ‘reading’, visiting a faith healer and a very disturbing scene at a gathering of Santeria followers – to be the most interesting and compelling part of this complex novel.
One final part which worked well in the book was the way that all characters, no matter how much page time they had, were given little quirks to their personalities which prevented them from being just standard cardboard cut outs. So even very minor characters, such as female FBI agent Wyatt with her self depreciating sense of humour, or the faith healer who channels a man with a German accent, were people in their own right. Even Chase’s dead partner, Jason, is brought back to life through the use of Juicy Fruit gum. This attention to detail with all characters added to the wealth of information and minute detail throughout the book. It amazes me to think how much research must have gone into this book – not just with the Santerian and Palo Mayumbe religion, but with police procedures for infiltrating buildings, how to effectively search a car and a wealth of other tiny incidental matters.
You may be wondering why, after I’ve just waxed lyrical about this book, I haven’t given it five stars. My only concern is that Personal Demons will not be to everyone’s taste. The fact that it deals extensively with the religion of Santeria, with its strange and mysterious practices, may be off putting to some readers. Plus there is a scene involving a Santeria gathering which contains some rather wild goings on involving spirit possessions of both adults and children. Whilst I wouldn’t go as far a labelling this book as a horror, there are some areas where those readers without a strong stomach or a liking for supernatural events may be turned off the book. This is why I find I cannot wholeheartedly recommend Personal Demons.
However, for those of you who love mysteries and don’t mind a bit of spiritualism in the mix, this book will be ideal. I thoroughly enjoyed this well written and captivating book. I could go on and on about other areas such as the breathtaking action sequences; the beautiful, tender way that the relationship between Chase and Enrique develops over the story; and the way that the city of LA comes alive in the descriptions of the city, but you can find all that out for yourself when you read the book, which is highly recommended.