When Jane Takako Wolfsheim, a Japanese American, is slapped awake on a Minneapolis park bench, she is confused and panicking. She remembers arriving in the park for a summer jazz festival, but after that, all is darkness. A grimy bearded man leans over her, tipping water into her mouth and explaining that he used her cell phone to dial 9-1-1. Presently, paramedics arrive, and when they fail to stabilize her, she is taken to the hospital. Her shabby savior walks beside her, kissing her hand as she is bundled into the ambulance. “Who are you?” Jane asks. He replies, “Jorge Luis Borges.”
Gotta admit: I didn’t see that coming.
He isn’t the Jorge Luis Borges, of course (the deceased Argentine short-story writer, essayist, poet and translator), though given the magical realism in MY TRAVELS WITH A DEAD MAN, the debut novel by Steve Searls, he might as well be. When Jane wakes up in Costa Rica, thinking she had been in Japan instead, Borges tells her she has been having visions. This leads to him teaching her to alter time and space, traveling to alternative worlds called “Elsewhere.” And travel they must, as Jane becomes a suspect in her parents’ inexplicable murder. Good thing she has Borges, whose mother, Ulrikke, tells Jane that he always intended to “find a woman possessing the ability to go ‘Elsewhere’–as you call it–that he would convince her to fall madly in love with him and she would bear him a son. After that, his plan is to eliminate you.”
MY TRAVELS WITH A DEAD MAN (I would cut “My,” as it implies a first-person narrator, which the book doesn’t have) is a fast-paced, richly imagined tale, a mix of mystery and anime-style fantasy. Japanophiles will love that country’s descriptions and characters. Speaking of characters, it is sometimes hard to get invested in them. Jane is more helpless than Twilight’s Bella Swan, careering from one crisis to next while lashing out with lines like “Stop lying!” and “I’ve been fucked with enough!” And no villain after Stephen King’s The Dark Tower should be called “the man in black.” Still, Searls’s reliance on jump scares over mounting tension, on George A. Romero over Alfred Hitchcock, will hook most readers hard, holding them tight until the very end.
Steve Searls’ MY TRAVELS WITH A DEAD MAN is a weird, wild and highly imaginative whodunit.
~Anthony Aycock for IndieReader