Mark Everett Stone delivers an action-packed espionage thriller, or so the cover of Chicago, The Windigo City claims. While the fourth installment in the “Files of the BSI Series” does in fact speed right along, the novel falls short of a thriller rating and even shorter of originality.
Everett’s star character, Agent Kal Hakala, narrates a small portion of Everett’s story, handing the storytelling over many times to friends, colleagues, and a faerie who’s come to warn the Bureau of Supernatural Investigations of humanity’s impending doom via otherworldly cannibals. These Windigo creatures (after whom the book is named) don’t make an actual appearance until very late in the novel. The narration falters quickly as it jumps through centuries of time, back again and forward again with a few pages in between, and a new narrator at every turn.
First, the agents fight werewolves, then bad faeries and many unnamed alien-like creatures. Alien-like because their origins are rarely discussed in detail. They explode into the scene, fangs dripping, sores seeping, and hunger raging. They are the epitome of fear and strength, surely the most formidable foe ever to threaten mankind. Just as quickly, they exit without much more than a swing of a hunting knife by the hero. The novel forgets them until the hero needs an ego stroke, recounting their acts of Herculean strength to newbies in the agency, or just to themselves when bored and reminiscing. But the novel treks on and, with the token apocalyptic doom approaching, best friends Kal and Canton fight alongside witches to save the fate of humanity.
If a reader should decide to pick up this novel in hopes of learning more about Chicago, those hopes would be in vain as less than half of the setting involves the “Windigo City.” This novel skips over the architecture, the diverse neighborhood life, the food, and even the sandy beaches of the real Windy City. In brief scenes that enter Washington Heights, Chicago seems a stinky afterthought—a city whose smells can’t be forgotten, apparently because the stench of the city is the only sensory description given, unless clustered traffic is considered.
Chicago is not alone in receiving only a surface description, however. Setting itself stays nearly non-existent throughout the novel; even in an exotic place such as Egypt, Everett reduces that interesting and varied landscape to a description of hot and dry. These missed opportunities to fully engage the reader plague the novel and keep the story skimming the surface of actual emotion, in the end arriving at less than a sitcom level of entertainment.
Hope does exists inside the pages of Everett’s latest work, and it’s clear he has some talent: his standalone novel, The Judas Line, (2012) earned a starred review in Publisher’s Weekly and was a finalist for the ForeWord Magazine Book of the Year Award in the Fantasy Category. He has won something of a loyal following for his series as well. His characters can be funny, and his pacing is usually spot on. Also in his favor: The novel doesn’t take itself seriously (so the reader should strive not to, either). If approaching this novel with mind shut off and eyes wide open—maybe with a little drool escaping down the chin and a club in hand—the reader might enjoy the ride as one would America’s Funniest Home Videos, the crotch-hitting clips in particular.
January 2014, Camel Press
$14.95, paperback, 288 pages
—Reviewed by Mindy Jones