One of the big unanswered questions about Harper Blaine: Why did a two-minute stint in death turn her into a Greywalker, and not other people?
Well, now Kat Richardson has answered quite a few of the questions she's raised, while spinning up some brilliant plot threads for future Greywalker novels. In fact, her fourth novel "Vanished" is the most outstanding work that she's done to date, mingling more backstory for the hard-boiled heroine with more intense horror and fantasy.
A warning from a dead ex-boyfriend sends Harper back to Los Angeles. There she discovers some shocking facts about her father's death -- he committed suicide, claiming he was being followed by "the worm-man" and "the watchers." Also, his ghost is missing.
Then Edward Kammerling convinces her to check in on a friend of his in London, who has gone mysteriously missing. But the more Harper investigates, the she thinks that this is intertwined with the question of what drove her father to his death -- it involves amphorae filled with blood, a supposedly-dead enemy now undead and well, and an ancient breed of wormlike Egyptian vampires.
And Harper discovers that London's vampiric underground is being overcome by the "worm-men," and their Pharaohn (not a typo) has plans for the young Greywalker. What's more, they have captured her ex-boyfriend Will. With Will's younger brother and the eyeless, sinister Greywalker Marsden, Harper must somehow save her ex and stop the Pharaohn's minions.
Compared to Kat Richardson's prior books, "Vanished" is more of a horror story -- she twines together Egyptian myth, a hint of Lovecraftian monsters, steampunk (a jewel-eyed magic robot!) and the slimy things that repulse us all (a Gollumesque river monster with "fog light eyes"). But the most horrifying is the pallid, wormlike Asetem-ankh-astet, which spread chaos and can possess a dead human's body.
And Richardson's writing has matured as well, intertwining various subplots smoothly with the main one. Her style has plenty of eerie poetry in the descriptions ("A snarling monstrosity of spiderweb and bone poured out") and solid dialogue. As she builds the suspense to a climax, Richardson sprinkles the story with plenty of chaotic, dirty action scenes in the odd corners of London's graveyards and undergrounds.
But while she answers some of the longstanding questions in this series, she leaves several plot threads floating in the breeze. Clearly Harper has some bloody battles ahead.
And for the first time, Harper's backstory is sketched out in greater detail -- her child-star history, her shallow Hollywood mother, and the terrible losses that have filled her life (half of which she doesn't remember). But Richardson never lets her heroine get emo about it; she just charges on ahead, seeking the truth without fear for herself. The underused Michael is also revealed to be surprisingly mature and reliable, while Marsden makes you chuckle and shiver at the same time.
"Vanished" is the best that Kat Richardson has turned out thus far, and everything indicates that her next work will be even more brilliant. Think a female Jim Butcher, with more ghosts and ghastliness.