Stacia Kane

The fourth book in the dark urban fantasy series set in a world where ghosts are real. The atmosphere and Chess’ life are so dark that I’m including this in my RIP reading.
Publication year: 2012
Format: Audio
Publisher: Audible
Narrator: Bahni Turpin
Running Time: 13 hrs and 51 minutes

Chess Putham is a Debunker for the Church of the Real Truth; she banishes ghosts which tend to be violent and irrational. She’s also a drug addict because of her horrible childhood; she wants to keep those feelings and memories away. She’s also very insecure and feels that she deserves all the bad things which happened to her and when good things happen, she’s convinced that something or someone will screw it up.

Chess’ drug dealer is one of the two powerful local crime bosses, Bump. When one of his warehouses is burned with a ritually killed body inside, he orders Chess to find out who did it. As a Debunker, Chess often has to find out if an alleged haunting is real and if not, who and why did it, so in theory Chess might be able to track down the killer. Unfortunately, it takes time and Bump isn’t patient.

At the same time, the Church gives Chess a new case. One of their schools has a ghost and Chess is asked to look into it. The case had been assigned to another Debunker first, but he has disappeared, so Elder Griffin sends their best Debunker, Chess. Unfortunately for Chess, the school is located in another crime boss’ area. The boss, Slobag, is father to Chess’ former lover Lex and Chess might still have feelings for him.

Chess is in a new and still tenuous relationship with Bump’s main enforcer, Terrible. Unfortunately, she can’t just enjoy it but has to constantly worry about how Terrible sees her, and if and when he’s going to leave her. The relationship is raw and in-your-face and as far from happily ever after as can be. Because Chess’ new case in Lex’s father’s turf, she even more insecure about Terrible.

Like all the other books in this series, this one too has a lot of secondary characters. When Chess goes to the haunted school, the teachers treat her with a mixture of amusement and condescension and Chess’s awful memories about her own school time don’t help. All of the familiar cast returns.

The story moves at a good pace, switching between Chess’ two cases and her relationship with Terrible and scenes with Lex. However, a lot of time is spent in Chess’ head with her neurosis and insecurities. She also uses a lot of drugs, as usual.

An interesting side note is that some of the characters question the Church’ origins. Is it possible that the Church isn’t simply a savior when the ghosts started to rebel and attack humans, but that the Church actually started the whole thing? I hope this will be explored later. I don’t remember anyone mentioning this before. Since the Church essentially rescued Chess from her earlier life, Chess thinks that the Church is beyond any blame.

Apparently same-sex marriages exist in this world and are somewhat common. That was interesting to see because the quotations at the start of each chapter, from various in-world sources, are heteronormative.

The characters speak in a thick Downside accent which seems to be even thicker this time. Usually the accent is quite easy to listen to in an audio book (I probably wouldn’t have even tried to decipher it in a print format so I was really lucky that I started the series in audio) but this time is was sometimes a bit hard to fathom just what is being said. Bump’s dialog was especially bad.

The first chapter is available on the author’s site for free.

The third in the Downside Ghosts series. The main character is Chess Putnam who works as a Debunker for the Church of the Real Truth. She’s also a drug addict.

The book starts a couple of weeks after the previous book. Chess takes part in Madame Lupita’s execution because she uncovered Lupita’s illegal operations in the previous book. This should have been a routine matter but things go horribly wrong. Too late, Chess realizes that a ghost inhabits Lupita and when she dies, the ghost is released. The hosted ghost rampages through the Church employees and manages to kill two of them before it is banished with the executioner’s spare psychopomp. However, that spirit escort turns out to be a wolf and not a dog which the Church employees use.

Then, Chess is offered a very lucrative new job. The down sides are that she’s going to have work under the watchful eye of Lauren Abrams, who is a member of the Black Squad who are the law enforcers for the Church, and she has to take a binding oath that she won’t talk about the case with anyone else outside the case. If she does, the oath markers will give her pain and draw blood.

Mangled human corpses have been found on the streets of Downside and the Church suspects that their fanatical enemies the Lameru have returned. This means that Chess and Lauren have to investigate sites in the Downside, and the drug dealer and pimp Bump becomes interested. He orders Chess to essentially spy for him and gives her protection, too: his enforcer Terrible. Terrible and Chess became friends and almost something more but Chess screwed that up and now Terrible doesn’t want anything to do with her. But when Bump orders, Terrible has to obey.

Chess is still in love with Terrible. She blames herself for the break-up and misses him a lot. Terrible does his best to minimize his contact with her and barely even talks to her.

Chess is used to working alone and she resents Lauren from the start. Lauren is the daughter of the Grand Elder of the Church, and she has a lot of power, money, and contacts. She has also no idea how she should behave in Downside or what the the local gangs can do to her. She turns out to be a bit trigger-happy, as well. Chess suspects that the weird psychopomp that the executioner had, has something to do with the Lameru but Lauren is only interested in investigating things that are directly involved with the case. Chess has to also do her own investigating with Terrible but she can’t tell that to Lauren. Also, Chess hasn’t yet broken up with her occasional lover Lex who supplies her with free drugs.

The third book in the series is just as fast-paced as the previous ones. The only thing that was jarring to me was how much different kinds of drugs Chess was taking and still being able to function. She took speed to pick her up when she was tired, another drug when she needed to sleep, and another to keep her emotions under control. Also, she was more paranoid that someone in the Church knew about her drug habit.

The book has a tight third person point-of-view. Just like the previous books, each chapter starts with a short quote from different sources such as the Book of Truth or Mrs. Increase’s “Advice for Ladies”. I really enjoyed these.

You can read the first three chapters for free at the author’s web site

The second book in the Downside Ghosts series.

Chess Putnam continues her career as a Debunker for the Church of Real Truth. She interviews people who claim that a ghost is haunting their home and either banishes the ghost or finds out that the people are lying. She’s also a drug addict which she hides from the Church. She lives in the Downside which is the area where the poor people live.

The story starts with Chess undercover. She’s trying to expose an illegal séance but something goes horribly wrong and she’s poisoned. Luckily, her backup is near and she gets the antidote in time. Then, Terrible shows up with another task for her. Terrible is the enforcer for Chess’ drug dealer, Bump, but Chess and Terrible have become friends and are also attracted to each other. So, Chess really has no choice but to start investigating the murders of Bump’s prostitutes. The other whores are convinced that a ghost is killing them.

Meanwhile, Chess gets a new assignment from the Church: a TV and movie star has reported a haunting in his house. Chess finds out that a gruesome triple murder took place in the house and feels odd things there, too. But something doesn’t feel right.

The plot moves again in a brisk pace and we get to see some new places and people in Triumph City. The upper class, in the form of the TV star Pyle and the people around him, live in an almost different world from the dangerous and seedy Downside. We also see the spirit prison where the Church imprisons the souls of the evildoers. They torture the souls and blast them with heat so it’s a pretty hellish place even though the official line is that hell doesn’t exist.

Chess’ addiction has been dealt with in the previous book but here it’s finally shown in the full awfulness. She’s a broken woman to begin with and here she’s brought to a new level of low. And yet, I can help but to root for her and hope she can somehow change her life and get rid of the drugs, although that doesn’t look likely.

Chess has two men in her life even though she tries to convince herself that she’s better off alone and not trusting anyone. One of them is Terrible, Bump’s enforcer, and the other is Lex, who works for a rival drug dealer and supplier Chess with free drugs. She has sex with Lex because he doesn’t demand anything from her. Still, she has to constantly be on her guard with both of them and lies to both of them. This can’t, of course, end well. This triangle is a bigger part of the story in this second book than in the first one, and it’s also well paced and integrated into the whole story.

We found out some new sides about Terrible which make him more sympathetic character. Chess’ abusive youth is also explored in more depth.

I’m completely addicted to these books and will gladly indulge in the next one.

This is by no means a light read: it’s gruesome and gut wrenching but definitely worth it.

First things first: the main character Chess Putnam is a drug addict and she has no intention of stopping. She had a horrible childhood: she doesn’t know who her parents are and she drifted from one bad foster family to another. She really wants to forget that time. She doesn’t trust anyone and pushes away anyone who tries to get close to her. Also, she has a very low opinion of herself. The Church saved her from that life and she serves it gladly.

Chess is a witch who works for the Church of Real Truth. When people claim that their house is haunted, Chess is one of the Debunkers who are sent to find out if the haunting is real or fake. If the ghost is real, Chess banishes it.

About a twenty years ago, ghosts rose and attacked living humans. The religions and authorities at the time couldn’t do anything. The Church of the Real Truth was the one who was able to banish the ghosts and protect the people. Now, the Church is the only authority and the only religion based on Facts and not Faith. The Church is pretty fascist; they want people to spy on their neighbors and even on their families for signs of crimes such as trying to contact the afterlife on their own. The Church also keeps a tight grip on what people can know about the past.

The book starts with Chess doing her job: banishing a ghost. However, because of her drug habit she almost blows it. Also, Debunkers are paid more when a possible haunting turns out to be fake so this time she didn’t earn a bonus which she really needs.

Then, her drug dealer Bump extorts her. She has to agree to banish some troublesome ghosts from an abandoned airport which Bump intents to open for his own business. He sends his enforcer, Terrible, to the airport with Chess. There Chess finds out that the ghosts are stronger than she thought so the job wouldn’t be simple after all. When she gets home, a sexy rival drug lord Lex kidnaps her. Lex doesn’t want the airport opened and tries to bribe Chess with free drugs to tell Bump that the ghosts are too strong for her. She doesn’t quite know what to do. To make matters worse, she is soon tangled into a plot against the Church itself.

The plot is fast and intense and excellently paced. Most of the characters are interesting, if not likable. Chess herself is quite a contradiction: on the one hand, she loves the Church but on the other, she betrays the Church’s ideals by being a drug user and being only barely able to do her job. Most of what she does is motivated by her desire to get more drugs.

The alternative reality drugs seem to work differently than real world ones. Here, Chess is able to better do her job when she’s high, which is most of the time. When she isn’t high, she starts to shake and can only focus on getting her next fix.

Terrible is a significant secondary character. He’s a big and ugly man and know how to threaten people. He’s also an expert in violence but he seems to use violence only as a tool and not really enjoy it. He opens up slowly during the story and turns out to have a variety of interests. Even though Chess at first is somewhat repulsed by him, she later starts to be attracted to him.

Lex is the other romantic interest. He seems to be more violent but he’s quite tender and even caring towards Chess. He flirts shamelessly and calls her Tulip because of one of her tattoos.

While many people were apparently disturbed by Chess’ drug habit, I was more disturbed by her love interests. Lets face it, drug dealers and their enforcers aren’t the nicest people ;). Then again Chess aren’t exactly nice herself either, and her past and present experiences are likely to make it difficult for her to maintain any close relationships.

Chess lives in a poor area called the Downside close to Bump’s place. This gives the story a bleak atmosphere combined with the themes of drug abuse and a fascist rulership.

Each chapter starts with a short quotation. Often they are from the Book of Truth but some of them are from other books such as Careers in the Church: A Guide for Teens. They are a good way to illuminate the world without infodumps. I really liked them.

I found the world to be fascinating. Even though all of the magic is centered on ghosts, there are still a variety of things it can do such as possessions and banishings. The magic rituals are also well described.

The first chapter is available at the author’s website and you can also download the first five chapters from there, too.