Good morning! Here is a book! It is an Alex Rourke story, but it’s not the writer’s cut of Burial Ground. The (thoroughly undramatic) reasons for that we’ll get to in a post tomorrow, but today - hey, here’s The Desperate, The Dying, And The Damned!
The full story blurb is at Amazon US and UK, but this novella picks up several years after the novels with Alex scraping out a living as the only investigatory outlet for those with no better or more legitimate channels to turn to, in the occasional company of a young woman with plenty of dark patches in her own background.
Kayleigh gave me the phone back. “I don’t have to ask why he won’t go to the cops with this, do I?”
“Even bad people are still people, K. They still need help at times, and where else are they going to go?”
“Alex Rourke: last resort of the desperate, the dying, and the damned,” she said and shook her head. “I suppose I shouldn’t complain; it’s rent week.”
It’s a proper, real, actual PI story. No thriller overtones. No ‘he will kill again!’ stop-the-baddie nonsense. And it was a lot of fun to write, especially Alex’s working relationship and the dialogue therein.
(Aside before I forget, as I always do - the cover image is this one by Luis Hernandez, cc-by licensed. Changing it to make it rainy - it’s near as damnit from a scene in the story - was much fun.)
The principal reason for Alex’s fall from respectability is something that was hinted at in the earlier stories and in his background (he had, for those who’ve never read any of them, a psychotic episode/breakdown following a run of Bad Things back in the past. This breakdown was the reason he left the FBI to go private). The tricks of his vision and the weird goings-on in The Touch Of Ghosts? The sense of disconnection and obsession in The Darkness Inside? The full-blown hallucinations in Burial Ground?
Not just cheap tricks and jump scares, my friends. Alex is suffering from a serious psychotic, schizophrenia-type mental illness. He is, to use the vernacular, mad as a bag of weasels.
Not in a kooky/melodramatic/UNHOLY. ACTING. TALENT. way, though. Or at least I hope not. His mental state was slowly degenerating over the course of the novels and the illness is now an ever-present in his daily life. Which is to say: he lives with it. This is years after it became a chronic thing, and obviously he’s still functioning. Life goes on. Controlling it in part with medication and in part by deliberately and carefully separating reality and hallucination as he encounters it. So that, like a migraine or a limp or whatever, it’s something you manage and you put up with because you have to. Backdrop, rather than story center.
(From a writing standpoint, it does allow me to get all unreliable narrator if I want to, and I’m sure that’ll come out in time. And, for what it’s worth, it doesn’t come up that much this time out, enough to establish it, sure, but not so much that I front-load with The Weird.)
I had something like it in mind way back when. It always struck me as a reasonable path for a series character who has to face the amount of horrible stuff as your average crimefighter. (And the “turn to drink to drown the awfulness” thing had been done to death, often schlockily.)
Fictional investigators have to face the most outlandish - and often the most improbably personal - terrors on an astonishingly regular basis that you’d assume some of them would lose it somewhere. PTSD, MPD, some kind of dissociative disorder, anything really. And yet not everyone with such mental illness is non-functional. In many cases, you adjust, and struggle on. Alex was always a guilt-driven character. I liked the idea of seeing him trying on the one hand to keep a grip on his fractured psyche while still, futilely, trying to make the world a better place in some small way.
The aim - and I don’t know if I’ll stick it out or not - is to do six novellas to make one full ‘season’ of a wider story. The second is half written at the moment. But first we need a beginning.
So this is that.
“Home.” I climbed out and stumbled round to the passenger side while she slid between seats.
“This thing’s a heap,” she said, grinding it into first gear. “It’s full of trash and the steering’s like a shopping cart. You should ditch it for something better. Like a skateboard, or a hobby horse.”
“The car’s fine.” I closed my eyes so I wouldn’t have to watch the horror unfold in the streets.
“It’s falling apart.”
“You get used to that,” I said.