2 out of 4 stars
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Morpheus: What is real? How do you define 'real'? - The Matrix
Len. E. Hooke, the author of RIP Synergy, would answer that "if it is real to you, then it is a real thing, it exists". This tome is a crime mystery unlike any other that I've ever read. It takes the basic question of "whodunit" up a notch because the victims are being killed by supernatural means. To that end, the author couples the mystery with a lot of philosophizing about the true meaning of life and the afterlives, delivered by way of the narrator's "Spirit Guide".
Anyone who watches forensics-heavy fare like any of the CSI shows or Forensic Files knows what a forensics team looks for - fingerprints, hair, carpet threads, etc. But what if there was none of that? In fact, what if the murders didn't even seem like murders because there was no evidence of them, including no external markings on the bodies? That's what's happening in the narrator's world, where people are dying, and their deaths are attributed to "natural causes" even though the dead are all under the age of forty. The only reason the storyteller knows otherwise is because he is a psychic, hypnotherapist, healer and life coach who has been tasked with finding and thwarting the guilty rogue spirit. He convinces Inspector Judy Marchant, whom he'd met six months earlier, to join him on his quest. He also has several discussions with his Guide, who lives up to its name and guides him somewhat when he's lost.
I was very excited when I read the synopsis for this book, as I liked the idea of mixing crime with supernatural elements. For the most part, I think the author did pretty well in pulling it off, but I would have liked a little less of the expositions. Towards the beginning, there were two long chapters wherein the narrator (not named until later in the book, so I won't name him either) elaborated on his process of meditation and shared a lengthy conversation with his Guide. While I knew it was necessary for the story, I got weary after a while and started to give up reading more than once. The ideas put forth were also rather complex, so I had to reread some parts more than twice and even then, I still ended up with crossed eyes. Once the book got back on track, though, I thought it was a nice read with easy pacing. I will note that I didn't mind the later positing quite as much, so maybe it was more a matter of "too much too soon" in the earlier instances. I also didn't agree with much of the information that the Guide gave the narrator, but I was able to overlook it and consider it fiction, even though the author notes that the book is based on true events that took over his life for decades. There was also a great twist during the last ten percent of the book that I figured out shortly before the reveal. This twist explained the title of the book, and I found it to be a very clever tie-in. Unfortunately, the book ended with somewhat of a cliffhanger. That is, I felt like the main questions in this book were answered, and the major strings were tied, yet the very ending causes the reader to ask more questions, which will presumably be answered in the second book of what is to be a trilogy.
The murders themselves were pretty interesting, if a little low-key in terms of action and suspense. I won't give anything away here but, aside from one death involving several people, the means of deaths made me furrow my brow with thought. My favorite parts were where the author elaborated on exactly how the deaths occurred. I was also able to fully commiserate with the coroner, Dr. Theobald Anstis, who couldn't help but notice that something wasn't quite right when he opened up the carcasses.
Unfortunately, as much as I liked this tale, there were a few things that gave me pause. One was the narrator's relationship with the Inspector. It never got romantic, but the Inspector went from being annoyed with him to seemingly flirting with him. These interactions creeped me out somewhat. At one point, the narraror noted that "There are some deeply personal issues surrounding the relationship between Judy and I, but the subject of this journal must remain tight and focused on its goal". Rather than making me curious, it just put me on edge because I didn't like the intimations. In addition, the narrator was married with a son, but there was only one scene of him interacting with his wife and none of him being with his son. He mentioned them enough that I remembered that he had a home life, but I would liked to have had a few scenes with them, if only to make the narrator seem more well-rounded. Additionally, the book was mostly written in first person from the narrator's point-of-view. When the focus was on the other characters, it was written in third-person, but some of the third-person scenes were written by the narrator, causing me to wonder how he knew what was going on elsewhere or in someone else's mind. I surmised that it was due to him being psychic, but it was never fully explained. Due to this manner of writing, in one scene the narrator noted the would-be victim's name before he presumably knew it, which struck me as a little odd. I would have preferred that he refer to her as "the woman" before she gave him and Judy her name. The author also had a tendency to refer to characters by both their first and last names, which got to be a little annoying after a while.
Aside from the minor annoyances (which sometimes pulled me out of the story) noted above, the book contained numerous grammatical errors, most of them related to comma usage, as well as a few instances of awkward syntax. I will note, however, that the book seems to be written using British English, so I'm uncertain as to those particular rules. The inconsistencies, though, were quite obvious. One person's last name was spelled in two different ways throughout her scenes, while another person was referred to as both the girlfriend and the wife. Also, one character was said to have had a heart attack, but later the text says "On examination, no abnormal heartbeat or other irregularities were found and the ECG trace showed nothing of note", making me wonder which was correct. Lastly, the DI ("Detective Inspector", I think) had a conversation with PC Stewart about a conversation that the PC had with the narrator, but a bit later asked if he'd spoken with the narrator yet. In the Foreword, the author says, "I take full responsibility for the fact that this book might not be of the highest quality in all respects, but in my defence, I am not a seasoned author". While I can accept that some authors are just regular people who want to get their stories out, I also urge Mr. Hooke to have his book professionally edited. On the positive side, I really liked the symbols that began each chapter, but I wasn't sure what they were exactly. I didn't think they were hieroglyphics, so I wondered if they were related to the narrator's occupation.
After thinking long and hard about the rating, I have to give RIP Synergy 2 out of 4 stars since I cannot give it two and one-half. The typography issues subtracted one, and I felt like the other issues I had were too major to go with three stars. Even so, I won't hesitate to recommend this book to fans of crime mystery and/or the supernatural, especially if you like reading theories about the afterlife. There is quite a bit of graphic violence in this tale along with a few scenes that mention pornography and masturbation, so you may want to steer clear if you have a weak constitution or dislike reading about such subjects.
"Focus intensely on a page. Meditate on that page, let nothing else enter your mind except the information that lies within." - Spirit Guide
RIP - Synergy
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