Reviewed by: Ulysses Dietz
Member of The Paranormal Guild Review Team
This was really good. Fascinating. Eerie without being terrifying. Romantic without being cloying. Sexy without being gratuitous. Paranormal in a way that felt entirely realistic, if you can wrap your mind around it.
Ms. Nybo is a new author for me, which always gives me pause – and a bit of a rush. Oddly enough, I knew about the opal-mining town of Coober Pedy in Australia’s outback because I’d seen the episode of the television series Dirty Jobs that focused on the life of the miners there. It is apparently every bit as weird as Nybo portrays it, although she endows it with a small-town quirkiness that renders it familiar and foreign at the same time.
Sergei Menshikov is Saami of Russian heritage (or is he a Russian of Saami heritage?). The Saami were in my childhood known as Laplanders, a term that has become unacceptable. The most bizarre truth to keep in mind is that the Saami, while Nordic and white, have been treated as ethnic outcasts, displayed at world’s fairs, and generally mistreated in much the same way that the Roma (and all people of color) have been for centuries.
Sergei is not only Saami, but noaidi – a shaman. In the wilds of Coober Pedy, it is this part of his heritage that he keeps under wraps, and indeed from which he has become a refugee.
Leon Armstrong is a big-city federal policeman, brought into Coober Pedy to look into a particularly gruesome murder with clear ritual overtones. Closeted in his work life, Leon realizes he is in trouble as soon as he meets Sergei, the lead witness in the unfolding case. Leon feels an electric attraction to him that he knows Sergei shares.
Leon is a man of the rational, scientific world to Sergei’s spiritual, magical realm. Right from the start, Sergei knows that Leon’s intrusion into his intentionally sequestered life is significant, but also that Leon will not easily embrace Sergei’s truth. How will Leon solve a murder when science and reason will not provide the answers he needs?
Nybo creates a vivid, cinematic setting, and populates it with people who, for all their oddities, are real and dimensional and deserve the reader’s attention. The murder arc, for all its horror, is kept surprisingly low key, just as the romance between the two main characters maintains a tightly suppressed tension until it is allowed to explode at key moments in the plot. Nybo handles all of the moving parts to this story with skill and intelligence, bringing the reader along into Leon and Sergei’s discoveries about themselves and each other. It is masterful storytelling.