I Left My Haunt in San Francisco
by Mark Everett Stone
Reviewed by Donna Glee Williams
If you’re wondering what kind of book Mark Everett Stone’s new I Left My Haunt in San Francisco is, I know exactly how to tell you: Remember the fourth season of Buffy? The gang that’s been fighting ancient evil with ancient lore from ancient books bumps into another gang, a bunch of young soldiers fighting ancient evil with the best, most up-to-date technology that a generous military budget can buy--The Initiative. Well, imagine a story focused on the life and times of one of those guys, someone recruited, trained, equipped, and assigned to meeting constant secret supernatural threats from the dark “World Under” against the sunlit, normal “Straight” world. Perhaps the story would be based on one of the agency’s grizzled veterans, in this case, a 10-year veteran—folks in death-defying lines of work get grizzled pretty young, by calendar years.
In I Left My Haunt, said vet is a Finn by the name of Kalevi Hakala, or Kal for short. Kal carries within him the psychic shards of his long-dead sister, Leena. When he gets pushed too far, Leena can emerge to give him a sort of battle-frenzy strength like the Hulk’s rage, or Cuchulain’s ríastrad, or the Norsemen’s berserker state. Kal is the senior officer of a team of operatives from the Bureau of Supernatural Investigations, a shadow agency of the U.S. government.
Stone’s B.S.I. is different from Whedon’s Initiative. It isn’t limited to technologies based on current natural sciences, though acid bombs, sonic death rays, and self-deploying gliders are all part of the fun. But B.S.I.’s arsenal includes gadgets based on a complex hybrid of natural and supernatural forces, like “the most dangerous handgun in the world,” as described by Alex, who is to Kal what Q is to James Bond.
“It’s made of shatter resistant ceramic and NewTanium. There are platinum spell Shapes worked into the grip that scan the user’s aura along with a plate where your thumb rests… There are small diamonds embedded in the resin of the grip. They supply the energy for the spells and are charged by heat, be it from your body or from a warm stove top. The barrel and the inner chamber…well, that’s technical.”
So Boys With Toys (and Girls, too) are definitely part of the pleasures of this novel. Also included in the package is the nifty juxtaposition of elements from different worlds that urban fantasy writers get to play with: brownies that live in a toy Winnebago and do Kal’s dry-cleaning, faë with cable service, a púca wearing Air Jordans and a hoodie, and so on. But probably the feature that readers will notice the most is the voice. This is a first-person narrative, speaking directly to the reader with a certain jaunty cynicism that owes a lot to the hardboiled detective fiction of our pulp ancestors. But that doesn’t quite describe the voice’s parentage, either; imagine Ms. Dashielle Hammett having a fling with Mr. Ian Fleming and giving up their baby for adoption by Douglas Adams who raises the child on old Man From U.N.C.L.E. episodes. Something like that.
I can’t keep from mentioning, for that tiny microcosm of folks who will appreciate this, that Stone joins with Robert Louis Stevenson, Mark Twain, and Neil Gaiman (among others) in giving a literary resurrection to San Francisco’s beloved Joshua Norton, His Imperial Majesty, the Emperor of the United States and Protector of Mexico. Always good to see an old friend.
I Left My Haunt in San Francisco is Book Three From the Files of the B.S.I. but, because of the deft handling of backstory, can easily be enjoyed by new readers who enjoy contemporary urban fantasy with some humor and violence in the mix.
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