It sometimes seems that everyone can see dead people except for me. The ghost seer genre has sprung up everywhere; from film (The Sixth Sense), TV (Medium, The Dead Zone and Ghost Whisperer), to fiction (Odd Thomas). In most of the cases shown here the main hero does their best to try and help those who are troubled by the undead, but surely seeing dead people would more likely leave you emotionally and psychologically scarred than a superhero?
This happens to be the case with Will Kennedy who throughout his life has had the pleasure of witnessing the dead. Rather than become a millionaire ghost hunter, Will has become a bit of a bum. In his 30s, he lives on his own in a dingy flat estranged from his ex-wife and kid. It is not until the day that his cousin phones him that things begin to change. You see, his cousin is haunted by a woman that he hit with his car. Why is it then that her ghost is bound and gagged and that the man is training a gun on Will?
Even though the book seems to have a central premise of watching Will embark on a new career in ghost hunting, it unfolds a lot differently. Will has so many emotional problems, and conflicts with his relatives, that the book is as much about these dynamics as it is ghosts. If the characters you were dealing with fell into the sympathetic bracket this could prove an interesting fleshing out process, but this is not the case here. The book is set in Houston, Texas and is populated with the type of red necks and white trash you may expect to see in King of the Hill. Will is one such poorer member of society and his inability to keep a job does not improve his character. We are meant to sympathise with a man who does not see his daughter much and can not find any direction in his life. Instead, by the end of the book, you just feel like he is a bit of a moaning twit. This failure by Sean Stewart to make the central character likeable really affects the book negatively.
The side characters bodes a little better with Wills family and ex-wife giving some genuine compassion to the book. Perhaps the best characters are the ghosts themselves that haunt Will. I can not tell you too much about them but suffice to say some of them are trying to save Will, whilst the others are trying to kill him.
Even without the best central character a book can still shine with its story and for a long time Firecracker does just that. The first two thirds are an excellent read as the story rattles along at a great pace. It is not until the final part that Stewart loses the ability to create a coherent narrative. Both Will and the reader are left scrambling around trying to fathom what is going on. The ending is not completely awful but does play its part in making an excellent premise average.
I think that a major issue I have with Firecracker is that it does not compare favourably to Odd Thomas by Dean Koontz that covers similar ground but distils the character with a lot more favourable characteristics. Thomas is kind and shy, but tries to help people when he can. Will is morose and surly and would rather ignore the situation if he could. I could probably relate to this as I can imagine seeing spectres would ruin your social life, but being a firecracker that kicks off a fight for little reason does not work for me.
So is Firecracker worth a read? I would say that the book was average and elements appeal while others do not. If you are not a fan of supernatural thrillers, this novel will not change your opinion. However, if you have read all the Koontz books you can think of, then this may be a refreshing alternative. I greatly enjoyed large parts of this novel and in particular was impressed with the central premise, but the lack of sympathetic main protagonist and poor conclusion made the book an average 3 out of 5 by the end.