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Personal Demons (The Jake Helman Files) / Gregory Lamberson

Medallion Press / October 2009
Reviewed by: Blu Gilliand

Personal Demons starts out with a lot of promise. Jake Helman is a New York City detective working a high-profile serial killer case. After a visit to a particularly gruesome crime scene, Helman retreats to a local cop-friendly watering hole, snorts some cocaine, and walks out of the restroom into a burglary in process. Seconds later the two perps are gunned down and Helman is battling an adrenaline-and-coke-fueled panic attack. Later, when pressed for a hair sample by the Internal Affairs officers investigating the incident, Helman turns in his shield and walks away from the job.

Sounds like a great start to a good procedural, right? Well, at this point, the story takes one of many twists. Helman is immediately tapped to head the security division of Tower International, a controversial corporation involved in genetic experiments and bioengineering. Protesters surround the company’s high-rise headquarters on a daily basis, and founder Nicholas Tower has dropped from public view. Helman soon learns Tower’s whereabouts as he meets the eccentric old man on his first day of the job, and is quickly ushered into the inner circle of the company.

Okay, still good. We’ve got a former cop working for a company involved with controversial genetics. Meanwhile, there’s a serial killer on the loose, and Helman quickly suspects there may be a connection between his former target and his current boss.

But, author Gregory Lamberson says “let’s twist again.” Soon supernatural elements are introduced into the story. There is talk of the possible capture and storage of souls. We learn that some of the picketers that frequent Tower International may, in fact, be ghosts. Then bodies start to melt, a strange globe full of snake-like creatures with vaguely human characteristics is discovered, and a couple of well-known Biblical characters make the scene. Oh, and one high-ranking Tower official makes the statement that she once “interned with a coven of witches,” and confesses to protecting the company to some extent with spells.

Lamberson should be credited for trying to take familiar ground and stretch it in new directions. The problem is he introduces too many disparate elements, and the plot becomes muddied in a hurry. Genetic engineering, demonic possession, the living dead, ethics, witchcraft, cloning — it’s all competing for time in what needs to be a tight narrative in order to work.

The book moves at a brisk pace, and Lamberson does manage to create some suspense in certain sequences. But there’s just too much going on for readers to get a grip on the story. This could have been a solid police procedural, a thought-provoking thriller, or an atmospheric horror story. Instead, it tries to be all of these, and ends up being none of them.

The book ends with a suggestion that there may be more Jake Helman stories in our future. (The book’s subtitle, “The Jake Helman Files,” suggests the same.) There’s certainly potential in the character for an interesting series, if Lamberson will narrow his focus just a bit in future tales.

Purchase Personal Demons (The Jake Helman Files) by Gregory Lamberson.

Posted on Wednesday, September 16, 2009 at 11:00AM by Registered CommenterDark Scribe Magazine in | Comments Off

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