Review 1 of L.H. Maynard's and M.P.N. Sims's Black Cathedral

This next one is a bit odd. I read this book when it came out and wrote three reviews, each targetted at a different magazine. Guess how many of them sold - yep, none. So here's the first. I'll post the second and third straight afterwards...

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Most of the elements of the book will seem familiar - even too familiar. We have a secret government department operated by psychics, all of whom are feel as though they've been dragged out of 1960s-90s TV spy/cop shows and liberally dosed with special mind-powers, investigating paranormal events - not exactly a fresh idea.

Add to this a powerful loose-cannon top operative with a knack of pissing off his boss - a boss who finally had cause to fire him only to see him brought back for one last mission.

We also have mysterious secret religious organisations, including a satanic cult and a secret Vatican order, and a remote island location, which has been the centre of spooky goings-on that just happens to be at the convergence of a number of ley lines. It sounds like you could have put all the elements from Hammer House of Horror into a hat and drawn out half a dozen to make the plot.

But oddly enough it's not a bad read. The characters might be overly familiar but they're comfortable. You don't find yourself irritated by them - well except for their grouchy boss, but you are supposed to find him annoying.

The tale focuses on an investigation by the secret British government Department 18. Robert Carter is the fired maverick investigator. His association with the department seems at an end when his partner goes missing during an investigation, until the events on Kulsay Island require his special skills.

Kulsay Island, off the coast of Scotland, is deserted. No one has lived there in decades. Perfect territory for the kind of team building exercises one American organisation wants its employees to undertake. Unfortunately this is one island whose spooky reputation has substance and their people all disappear. The corporation's CEO wants Department 18 to investigate, and insists Carter is on the team.

For all its lack of originality this is wonderfully entertaining. For one thing the authors have managed to bring the myriad of threads together into a cohesive whole. For all its pick & mix plot makeup this holds together. The investigators manage to step out of their PC all shades of the demographic stereotypes, become realistic individuals and gel as a team.

The plot is paced well. It's not action from the get-go, but builds tension gradually towards the very effective climax. Here the authors have been very clever. The bad guy is not revealed from the start. We follow the investigation in real time, as it were - we're slowly drip fed snippets of information as the investigators make discoveries and deductions. So as their levels of fear and excitement build so do ours.

Maynard and Sims have also managed to set the groundwork what could become a very entertaining series of Department 18 paranormal investigations, while not sacrificing the action and excitement of this first story. I have a feeling this could be a great series. I can't wait to read more!

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