Friday, 15 April 2016

Review: Expiration Date by Tim Powers

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An extra blog entry, so I'm not labeling this up as a Blog of Night and leaving my opera cape at home.

Tim Powers' Expiration Date is one of the those books that's sat on the shelf unread and unlooked at for years. I read it really because I realised that it was a sequel to the wonderful Last Call, a novel about magic, poker and mystery in the city of Las Vegas. The meat of the book concerns ghosts, and as you might expect from one of Powers' novels, these are not handled in a straightforward fashion. Instead they are remnants, shuffling about and confused by things like palindromes, They light up the night though, and the psychically inclined can find them without too much difficulty. The bigger the ghost the more it lights up the skyline, and the ghosts in Expiration Date are two of the biggies: Edison and Houdini.

The actual narrative follows a group of misfits, a boy raised to be the messiah by a breakaway cult, an electrical engineer who can see ghosts, and who's sister phones him to say she's committing suicide right at the start of the book, and psychiatric doctor who has been disbarred for using elements of witchcraft and the occult in her attempts to cure mental illness, as the ghost of Edison emerges and is pursued through the streets of Los Angeles in the body of the small boy Koot Hoomie, as the Hollywood of the 1950s and 60s shows off some of its seedy underbelly albeit through an occult context as ghost eating and suicide hove into view with an antagonist who devours ghosts and who is searching for her next fix.

The action is frenetic, the story rather liminal as it takes place in the nowhere spaces of the city, out on the streets where even though there are names, the geography feels elastic and unimportant. There are fixed points, among them the Queen Mary, but Powers manages to make a city where so many people want to be seen, a good place to be hidden. He does not shy away from the dangers of the streets either, There are strange ghosts out on the streets, ghosts that eat bottle caps and dirt, ghosts that are looking for something, anything that will let them feel again. That's in addition to the other weirdos in the shadows and the human dangers.

Like many of Powers' works this is a bit of a slog at times and it isn't as good a book as Last Call or some of his historical novels. That said if you want an urban fantasy novel that's a bit weirder than the norm, and are up to the read then do give it a go.

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