NY: Tor, 1996.
There are two cities in the world where it’s easy to believe that almost anything might happen. One is London, and Neil Gaiman and China Mieville can tell you all about what happens there. The other is Los Angeles (with Las Vegas, perhaps, as a distant psychic suburb), and Tim Powers (who lives in Orange County) is its resident expert. To anyone who knows the City of Angels, it doesn’t seem that farfetched to be told that most of its wandering street people are actually solidified ghosts, too crazed to know they’re dead.
And there are ghost-sensitives, like Pete Sullivan, twin of the late Sukie, son of A.P. (now a ghost himself, hiding in the ocean off Venice Beach), and itinerant electrician who is finally returning to L.A. after having fled the place six Halloweens before. And like Dr. Angelica Elizalde, whose therapeutic séances got out of hand and caused one of her patients to explode, but who has access to the vast ghost-related folklore of the barrio. And like a number of local connoisseurs who capture and “eat” ghosts by inhaling them, including Loretta deLarava, for whom the Sullivan twins used to work as stage hands and ghost-bait. Harry Houdini, it turns out, was a prominent sensitive who knew how to protect himself and managed not to be captured when he died — unlike Thomas Edison, whose last breath was bottled by his friend, Henry Ford, and who therefore never dissipated. Edison is key to the story, in fact, when he becomes, . . . let us say, closely associated with eleven-year-old Kootie Parganas, who witnesses the torture-murder of his parents after he steals the old inventor’s ghost and subsequently goes on the run. Edison is the great prize of the season, and Kootie’s got him, and everyone wants him — and they don’t care how they get him. Powers likes to start his stories in media res and drop the reader right in the middle of things — in this case, with Kootie trying to stay alive while he figures things out — which means you’ll be a little confused at first. Not unlike the story’s protagonists, usually. The players’ lifelines will crisscross as they move about the city, which serves as the canvas for Powers’s sprawling work. There’s a lot of history in Los Angeles and the author makes the most of it. And you can believe the majority of it, too, because even when he makes things up it’s difficult to see where the line between fact and fiction is. All the stories Edison tells Kootie are (mostly) true, as well. Powers, in fact, makes a point of never actually rewriting history — only adding to it. It’s also common to come away from a Tim Powers novel feeling a bit paranoid, checking over your shoulder for unusual persons who might be showing an interest, and being aware of odd sounds in the night. Especially burping pigs. Note: This was marketed as a sequel to the award-winning Last Call, but it isn’t, really. However, you really want to have Earthquake Weather close at hand so you can pick it up as soon as you finish this one. That will bring everything together.