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Friday Indie Review: The Broken Afterlife by Tyler Tullis

I met this author at a convention a few years back, and I love reading local authors. He talked about this book, and I thought at the time that it had an interesting premise that could be a lot of fun, if treated correctly.   The author has set up a world where a once world-renowned, prize-winning investigative reporter, Jon Perry, has been framed, and then exonerated for “cooking” one of his stories.  But as a result, he has lost his credibility as a journalist, and is working to make ends meet as an private investigator.  It’s in this guise as PI that the fun and hi-jinks start, when he takes on a job to prove a husband’s infidelity for the obligatory blond damsel in distress, named Cora Avery.

The book starts out in tried-and-true detective-noir style, and it hit all the tropes with what I thought was great panache.  It was a bit campy in spots, but honestly I love that juxtaposition between the hard-boiled detective and his totally ridiculous surroundings or contemporaries.  This author also nailed the cynical viewpoint needed for this type of character. Jon’s been around the block a few times and been burned by life more times than he has fingers or toes to count on– and it shows.

Here’s where things got a bit tricky for me.   As Jon investigates Cora’s husband, Brad, who’s on the police force, it becomes apparent something is not at all right with Mr. Avery, but it’s not as simple as an affair.   He may just be a corrupt cop.   Jon watches as the husband kills two women in the space of one night, and meets with some other very disreputable individuals– and one highly respectable politician.

He tries to report it, but the bodies mysteriously go missing. Plus now the husband knows he’s being watched, and it’s not much of a guess as to who must have made him the target of a PI.   He comes after Jon with several colleagues, and Jon only gets away after Cora hits Brad with the car, pinning him up against the side of the house and driving him through the wall, until –this is an exact quote– “He was a pulp.”

I have to admit, this was hard to swallow for me.  Cora hasn’t seen any of the murders herself.  And this is her husband we’re talking about, after all.  Presumably at some point– even if I assume she’s a trophy wife– she cared a great deal about this man.  Even if she believes he’s involved in shady business, or even believes he is a murderer, immediately turning to murder herself, and a very gruesome one at that, is a huge step.

The author does try to ameliorate this by telling us next that Brad was possessed by one of the four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, and Cora is in turn possessed by an angel, Adelaide, by the time the gruesome, vehicle-aided manslaughter took place.  Adelaide has come “of her own free will” to help Jon combat the four horsemen, who appear to have gone rogue.  Adelaide admits she has never met God or talked to him.  

But. Since she’s called herself an “angel”, she’s obviously an instrument of God’s will, and he must exist.

Here’s the thing. It’s even worse to have Adelaide kill Brad instead of Cora. There is nothing angelic, or frankly even very redeemable, about driving a man through the wall of a house until he is unrecognizable.  Especially since the author then goes on to explain that Brad was acting against his will because he was possessed, and that both the horseman and Adelaide have essentially stolen their hosts’ lives.  As long as Cora lives, she’ll actually be controlled by Adelaide. Cora is trapped inside her own flesh unable to get out or have any say in her own actions.

But Adelaide tells us Cora understood that and accepted it, because she didn’t want to get killed by the horseman.  Adelaide also explains that angels are just people who have died and come back to help the living, which to me, actually means she’s a ghost.   So Cora is possessed by a delusional ghost, who thinks she’s an angel.  Either that, or Cora’s just gone plain nuckin’ futs.

My “delusional ghost” perspective gets reinforced since Adelaide admits she doesn’t know what she’s doing or have any kind of a divine directive at this point.  The only thing I can assume is that she just likes Jon and thinks he can get the job done, for unfathomable reasons of her own.  Oh, and actually killing Brad did not stop the horseman, it just slowed him down. Jon and Adelaide have time to exchange stories and regroup but not much else.

Anyway.  At least explaining that Adelaide is basically a normal human ghost with the same knowledge and attitudes of anyone else from the 1940′s took away some of the absolutely horrible implications that her actions would have had if you, say, put her in direct communication with and under the command of God.   But only some.  It did at least allow me to continue further into the book. I have to admit that my first reaction after a vehicle-aided, premeditated and gruesome vehicular homicide with a “holy” perpetrator was to put the book down, and not pick it back up.

And so here’s my final beef with this book.   The book does put forward that God exists, and all actions in the course of the story are at least indirectly under his purview, which means all of the ugly, bad decisions and errors in judgment that Adelaide makes in her “angelic mission” do ultimately reflect on the God depicted in this book.  On top of that, I found the latter part of the book to be preachy, without actually making me want to buy in to the type of God and religion the book put forward.

It may not sound like it, I am actually very torn about how to rate my enjoyment in this book, because the part up until Adelaide runs Brad over with the car was absolutely fabulous. I enjoyed it immensely.  But the rest of the book, once I found out that Adelaide is God’s divine messenger, just fell apart for me.   Mostly because I couldn’t believe in Adelaide’s worldview or any God that would stand behind that worldview.  She was too flawed, and it made her loose all authority as a driving force for good.  Honestly, for me, she and the horsemen were on the same moral and ethical level for much of the book.

So I guess in summation, there’s good writing here, but for me, characters’ actions ultimately failed to support the book’s redemption arc in a satisfying way, especially since the author went for a God-is-good ending without actually resolving the problem with the horsemen conclusively, which just underlined that this God wasn’t that concerned with protecting humanity as a whole.  Jon’s soul may be saved by the end of the book, but the rest of us are still going to hell in a hand basket.  That’s just not the kind of attitude I expect a truly benevolent deity to have.