Jeff Vaughn is a telepath working on Bengal Station assisting the police in several investigations. One of these investigations is related the death of Tiger, a young girl whom he befriended. As Vaughn learns more about the cause of her death – overdose of an exotic drug called Rhapsody – a web of connections to an cult emerge and Vaughn’s life becomes increasingly endangered. He begins to suspect his supervisor, Weiss, of having connections to the illicit trade. Vaughn’s pseudo-partner helps Vaughn in his secret investigations all the while trying to urge Vaughn to come out from behind the cold barrier he’s erected around himself. As their investigations progress, Vaughn learns of a cult that worships a star god that, to this reader, had parallels the Great Old One Cthulhu. All the while Vaughn and Chandra are moving along their investigation, Brown parallels their story with that of Tiger’s sister Su (a lady of the night) as Su searches for Tiger.
Vaughn, then, is Eric Brown’s take on the psychic detective. Brown layers Vaughn with plenty of faults, drug addicted, complete cynic, dark and mysterious past, and an inability to develop true human connections. Despite these failings, or perhaps because of them, Vaughn comes across as a realistic character. Even if he isn’t the type of guy you’d want to hang out at the bar with, he’s a character whose story is fascinating to see unfold and whose back-story I wanted to learn.
While the Bengal Station of the series title is the main setting of the novel, Vaughn and Chandra do travel off world to investigate a ritual of the cult, the Church of the Adoration of the Chosen One. We learn very little about Vaughn in the early part of the novel, rather, Brown uses this chunk of the novel to allow us to see the story through the eyes of Vaughn for most of it, with pieces from the point of view of Su and Chandra, as well as a character by the name of Osborne, whose connection to Vaughn comes to light near the end of the novel.
Brown makes Vaughn’s ability out to be more of a curse than a power he enjoys using. Being able to read minds is not a pleasant thing and it takes a great deal for Vaughn to block out other’s thoughts. Due to events in his past, he is even more reluctant to use his ability, but he often realizes inaction would bring him more guilt than action. The whole idea of the telepathic individual and the background for the development of these individuals was very well-thought out by Brown, telepathy comes across as very plausible.
As this novel fits in the thriller/detective novel, Brown keeps the pace very high, making it difficult to set the book aside. I felt I just could not put the book down unless I at least finished the chapter I was currently reading. I also liked the chapter titles and how they tied into the narrative.
Su’s clientele comes across in contrasts – matter of fact realism through her eyes which relays the otherwise shocking and at times horrifically grotesque sexual acts. Because of a gash on her face, she is something of a fetish to a certain tentacled alien. Here, I think, Brown is playing with the conception of non-Asians have of some of the ‘tentacle porn’ that is associated with Asian pornographic culture. Along with this, Brown employs an “Engrish” dialect when he shows Su or her sister Tiger speaking, as well as other more subtle hints of both Thai and Indian culture. This is no different than Mark Twain phonetically spelling much of the dialogue of his characters from the American South. Many of these elements could possibly be perceived as stereotyping, though as an outsider to much of this culture, I found it as Brown showing a diverse future culture that is distinctly more than the typical white-bread future culture that for many years was associated with Science Fiction.
With Necropath simply the first of a three book series, Brown hasn’t shown all his cards for Jeff Vaughn despite hinting at what already looks to be a pot-winning hand. Though this novel is different in tone than Brown’s more recent masterpiece Kings of Eternity, his deft hand at breathing life into engaging characters is on full display as is the magnetic drive of the narrative kept the book within arm’s reach.
Necropath is a highly-readable and engaging novel and I don’t hesitate recommending it.
© 2012 Rob H. Bedford