Book review: Dead to Rites

Dead to Rites: The DMA Casefiles of Agent Karver
By Patrick Thomas, C J Henderson, John L French
Padwolf Publishing 2010
ISBN: 9781890096427
Review copy purchased by reviewer

Review by Ida Vega-Landow

Fans of “The X Files” will be happy to know that there is a worthy literary equivalent in Patrick Thomas’ Agent Karver, a former serial killer who works for the Department of Mystic Affairs. They are the government agency run by Uncle Sam himself, in charge of protecting America from all supernatural threats. Their slogan is “When darkness falls, the DMA picks up the pieces”. Agent Karver has quite a history. He was once possessed by a demon who forced him to go on a killing rampage, until the DMA caught up to him. After exorcising the demon, they pretended to execute him, even allowing the families of his victims to witness his “death” so that they could have closure. They then spirited him away, gave him a new face courtesy of their resident fleshsmith (that’s a mage who can reshape the human body without surgical instruments), then inducted him into the DMA under a new name.

Actually it’s a variation of his old name, at least the one he went by when he was on his killing spree; then he was known as The Carver, a sexual sadist who cut his victims to pieces, sometimes eating them as well. When he became an agent, he insisted upon calling himself Karver with a K, so that he would never forget what he had done and what he had to atone for. Even though he was only an unwilling passenger in his own body, his consciousness held hostage and forced to watch while the demon used his body to commit all kinds of atrocities against men, women, and children, he still feels the burden of these deaths upon his soul. He hopes for redemption someday, but the question is, how many good deeds are necessary to make amends for all the bad deeds you’ve done?

Karver’s partner, Mandi Cobb, is a pretty blonde lady and an empath, able to sense the emotions of those around her. She can also project her own emotions onto people, which comes in handy for calming belligerent suspects and unruly crowds. She co-stars with him in these stories, eleven in all, nine of which were written by my homeboy Patrick Thomas of Murphy’s Lore fame. Two of them were co-written by Patrick and a couple of collaborators well-known to the sci-fi community, C.J. Henderson and John L. French. Not wanting to spoil anything for future readers, all I can do is recommend a few of my favorites.

The most poignant is “Zombie and Spice”, already included in a couple of Patrick’s other anthologies. “Zombie and Spice” is about a creepy stalker courting a woman by sending her dead animals that have been made into zombies. Agents Karver and Cobb are assigned to the case at Karver’s request because the woman, Lucy Paxton, was the mother of one of The Carver’s victims, a little girl named Winnie. He’s still trying to make amends for the evil he’s done in any way he can. But when Winnie Paxton turns up as a zombie while Karver and Cobb are staking out her mother’s house, Karver has to confront his past when he sees one of his own dead walking. The stalker turns out to be an extremely disturbed fellow who uses a magic talisman, a knife that can turn living things into zombies when you stab them with it. What’s even more disturbing is that once Karver gets the talisman away from the suspect, he can use it to control the zombie child as easily as the creep can, but Mandi can’t, for a simple but tragic reason; the only person who has more power over a zombie than the mage that raised it is the person who killed it.

The second most poignant tale is “Ask Not”, which is about the ghost of President Kennedy. Apparently his restless spirit needs to be exorcised every few years by the oldest DMA agent, a charming fellow named Sarge who’s had an enchanted gem embedded in his chest since World War I that makes him as powerful as a tank. He’s also Karver’s mentor, who helps the younger agent over the rough patches in their cases. Sarge is a pragmatic fellow, the kind who does what he has to do to defend his country and its citizens from evil, natural and supernatural, without compromising his values or his humanity in the process. Or, as he explains to Karver, “We do what we can to make sure the bad guys don’t win and try not to become the bad guys in the process.”

Those of you who are conspiracy buffs will not be surprised to learn that Oswald wasn’t the only one involved in Kennedy’s assassination, but apparently the real truth is so awful that even the Warren Commission didn’t dare print it, for fear that it would destroy our country. Everything you’ve read in the Warren Commission’s report was censored for public consumption. According to Sarge, an uncensored version was hidden in the Texas School Book Depository for the sake of posterity. If you can find it, you’ll discover who really killed JFK and why. But of course if you do, the DMA will have to kill you. No, not really, they’ll just make you disappear. If you’re lucky, you’ll reappear in another part of the country with a new identity and a new memory, with no recollection of your former life. If you’re not lucky, you’ll find yourself a permanent guest of the U.S. Government, in a maximum security facility.

Going from the sublime to the ridiculous, the silliest tale is “Get A Room”, about a cheap motel in Tennessee that’s a “hot spot” for evil. Bad things and bad people seem to be attracted to the Harvest Moon Motel like flies to horse manure, because it’s a nexus for evil, like Sunnydale, home of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. When Agents Karver and Cobb report for duty there, they spend the whole day running around from one room to the other, trying to stop two ritual sacrifices and a summoning intended to open a wormhole into another dimension, as well as stumbling on a sado-masochistic orgy. This is after they take out the giant lizard in the pool that’s noshing on guests. Some days it just doesn’t pay to get out of bed.

There are other evil things and people in this book that will keep you glued to the pages. A fairy kidnapper who abducts baby boys, a sickening story of child pornographers who star in their own movies because they’re all adults cursed with eternal youth, a heartless mage whose hidden heart provides vengeance for a jealous husband and drives a lonely, abused little boy to the edge of tragedy, a Chinese psychic whose talent makes Mandi’s look like a cheap carnival trick, but who lives like a recluse because she is so sickened by the evil that lurks in the hearts of men, which she can both see and feel thanks to her gift, or curse. The last story, “The Tall Man Cometh”, is an apocalyptic one about a mysterious stranger who comes to a small town in Colorado and drives all its residents mad, just to amuse himself until Doomsday, which is likely to come sooner than everyone thought, on account of who the stranger really is. Patrick Thomas tells all these tales with his usual mix of solemnity and humor, keeping everything light enough to avoid scaring you too much, yet serious enough to make you believe everything he says. He’s so believable it’s unbelievable. Check out his website, www.patthomas.net, to order a copy of this book, or go to www.padwolf.com for your copy of “Dead to Rites”. Yes, the truth is out there, but people seldom believe it because it’s so much stranger than fiction. This is why hard truths are so often told in fictional form, to make it easier for regular folks like us to believe them.

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