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From the dramatic opening chapter, in which a psychic magically removes three rotting tumours from a young woman, without physically touching her, it is clear that events in the novel will unfold outside reality. Jonathan Mathias is renowned as a healer, although he refuses to call himself a 'faith' healer, since he believes it is a power from within himself that is helping people, not any higher or more mysterious power. A writer, David Blake, tries to interview him and establishes that Mathias believes he can manipulate other people's 'Astral bodies' or soul. Blake's understandable doubts are tested when Mathias briefly demonstrates his powers and the writer later starts to hallucinate. So far, so dramatic.
New characters are introduced rapidly and given sufficient background to distinguish them and intrigue the reader. These characters are mostly connected to two institutes conducting psychic research, in France and England. Early on, Kelly Hunt becomes the main character who ponders events and seems most concerned with their truth, but the whole cast is involved in psychic exploration in some form. Most characters seem intensely driven by a secret, which involves the reader in trying to work out their actions and motives, but few are likeable. Even Kelly commits a dubious act fairly early on in the narrative which has tragic consequences and will make most readers wary of empathising with her.
At the core of the narrative is gruesome, frequent and unmerited violence. As the research into astral bodies, projection and manifestation continues, Kelly begins to act like a detective, (though not a particularly good or subtle one,) and the bodies start to pile up. Some are accidents, or appear to be, while others are horrific murders. All are described in eye-averting detail, focusing on how the human body reacts under various pressures. I would not recommend this book to anyone who cannot stomach repeated descriptions of horrific violence, including sexual violence.
Short chapters make this easy to read and the ease with which people commit terrible acts creates a slight chill, but the novel never becomes un-put-down-able because the writer's style is so blasé and events don't quite match up. Dreams seem to create some physical changes, but not others. Characters do not react consistently to experiences - except for those characters committing the crimes, whose repeated identical reactions actually begin to create a sense of monotony. Towards the end of the novel, Kelly asks the evil perpetrator why he has killed so many. This seems like a question worth putting to the author himself as I started to question why quite so many characters had to act/die in this way. Was it simply excessive and unnecessary violence? The perpetrator's response is bland and unconvincing. I wonder what Hutson's response would be.
Ultimately, the novel fails to explain events sufficiently, even given the ambiguity allowed to the paranormal. Minor characters are abandoned once their allotted role is completed, leaving you to wonder what on earth happened to them. Explanations for major characters' behaviour are not developed enough to defend the build up they get in the early part of the novel. If you manage to read through the gruesome descriptions to the end, you will still be left wondering: how and why and what exactly is all this?