Pros: Fascinating take on ghosts; creative and original
Cons: Needs more worldbuilding; one unsatisfying story
Rating: 4 out of 5
Leah R. Cutter’s The Shredded Veil Mysteries is a collection of six ghostly tales. In 2012, the Great Unraveling happened, shredding the veils between the living and the dead. Ghosts and humans have had to learn to live side-by-side. Ghostly private investigator (former police officer) Andrew Collin and his trusty, rather special camera Betsy, end up seeing quite a bit of this strange new world as Andy takes on unusual cases. He’s also helped in this by Antonia “Toni” Hermino, who would probably be his girlfriend if the two could ever touch each other.
The worldbuilding feels somewhat incomplete. It’s clear that magic exists in this world. “Fixers” are people who can create artifacts that are usable by both the living and the dead. There are people who can cast charms that affect the dead in one way or another–keeping them trapped, keeping them out of a place, and so on. However, apart from what I’ve just said, magic is left almost entirely unexplained. Are there mages? Were there mages before the veils shredded? If so, what did they do then? If not, how did they figure out how to cast all these various charms in the last few years? Do they need to be trained, or can anyone cast charms? There are a lot of unanswered questions. As an odd quirk, some of the names in here change. Is it Andy Collin or Cullen? Tony or Toni? Toni Hermino or Hermano? A quick extra round of editing would have been nice.
In Hell By Any Other Name, we’re introduced to a living man named Harry Potter (“My parents were–whimsical”). He wants Andy to find an item that’s been stolen from him by Toni, who was working for another living man. Unfortunately, he has an extra agenda.
In To Hell And Back, Toni asks Andy to check in on her ghostly brother Beppe, with whom she’s lost contact. Andy goes to check on him, and finds that he seems to be drugged in some manner that’s causing him to fade away. Andy ends up forced to try the drugs, and has to work hard not to get hooked while he tries to free Beppe from their influence.
Hell For The Holidays sees Andy’s living niece Susan come offering to help him–she believes she can help him get into Heaven. (Deaths create portals, and those portals can take a soul to Hell or Heaven depending on where they’re due to go; Andy, of course, sees his own personal Hell through those portals.) She has created a man-made portal that is supposedly programmable, and can even allow Andy to see into other people’s Heavens and Hells. The ending of this tale is the creepiest in the book.
Susan wasn’t a snake oil salesman. No, she was something much worse: a true believer.
High Stakes Hell sees Andy getting involved in a semi-monthly poker game hosted by one Simon Beaker. Unfortunately, Beaker wants to use Betsy to foul ends, and he’s up to something dark and nasty. This story ends pretty much on a bluff, and it’s very unsatisfying. I thought that at least the trail might get picked up again in one of the other stories, but it didn’t. It felt like the author just didn’t know how to end this story.
In Postcards From Hell, the ghostly Mrs. Lorenzo wants her husband’s bones recovered from “ferrymen” so that she and he can be together again. This tale definitely hints at the wider world of magic, and even perhaps some creatures beyond just the ghostly. It also gives us a deeper look into the trading of favors that the ghostly community relies upon. One of the interesting details that gets explored a little more in here is the role of sound in the world of ghosts. Ghostly voices, for example, can give off vibrations of sound that drive mortals into terror.
Of Heaven And Hell is told from Toni’s point of view. This was briefly confusing because it wasn’t labeled or announced in any way, but the author is so good at conveying the change in voice and tone that this isn’t really a problem. An old acquaintance comes looking for Toni’s help in retrieving a family painting, saying it was stolen by Nazis. Andy and Tony find that the truth is a lot more creepy. One of the really neat details that crops up in this story is that there’s a faction of cabbies who have developed a superstition that they can “use up” their bad luck by plowing through ghosts, and thus have fewer “real” accidents. So while many cabbies won’t take ghosts, some will, in exchange for letting the cabbies run through them (something that’s very uncomfortable for the ghost). It’s very creative worldbuilding.
I think this book is well worth the read. It’s original, creative, and creepy. I just wish it had delved into magic even a little bit more, and that it had had a different ending to that one story.