This third installment of what has quickly become my favorite Urban Fantasy series played with some of the narrative threads explored in the previous books and moved forward in a very intriguing and quite satisfactory way, offering the by now familiar mix of humor and drama while at the same time delving deeper into some of the main characters, bringing to the surface a few unexpected facets of their personalities.
The team at the Stranger Times is undergoing a period of unsettling changes: Hannah Willis, the assistant editor who was carving her own niche at the paper, just resigned abruptly, with no other explanation that she’s considering going back to her cheating husband – and to better gather her thoughts on the matter, she booked a stay at a new-age-oriented, exclusive spa where she will learn how to put her life into perspective. The newspaper’s owner sends a very strange lady, Betty Cavendish, to replace Hannah and Betty promptly asserts her rule by fending off easily editor Banecroft’s bullying attitude and keeping poor Grace occupied (or rather distressed) by requiring a financial inventory. But it’s chief editor Vincent Banecroft who shows the biggest changes, because he’s become obsessed with his wife’s ghost, whose voice calls to him through the apparition of another ghost, young hopeful Simon, and asks him for help: consumed with the need to contact her and convinced that she might still be alive, Banecroft loses any interest in the Stranger Times’ proceedings and sets on a road to hell that might cost him much more than the paper he manages…
Unlike the previous two books in the series, Love Will Tear Us Apart does not follow the team as a whole but rather sends them all in different directions, engaged in different adventures, and that gives them a chance to experience some individual growth as characters: such is the case, for example, of shrouded-in-mystery Stella whose bizarrely awkward partnership with Betty takes her for once out of the confines of the paper – even though it’s for a very harrowing grave-robbing expedition; she also turns into a more hands-on member of the team when the infamous Loon Day comes around once again and the Stranger Times is literally inundated by a mob of more or less crazy people eager to share their tales of the uncanny with the staff.
Hannah herself is undergoing some momentous changes: her meeting with a very different ex-husband Karl ends with her booking a stay at the Pinter Institute, an exclusive retreat where she experiences a very shaky start by falling flat on her face. The Institute is a strange place, to say the least, run by plastic-faced personnel that are just a half-step short of being robotic, and poor Hannah is subjected to the strangest remedies that go from hot yoga to other… ahem… intrusive therapies that should help her “find herself” but sound too weird even to someone used to the madness of the Stranger Times.
As for Banecroft, he is a man obsessed: since making contact with the voice of his departed wife, he has been so concentrated on unraveling this mystery that he left everything else unravel around him, including his own well-being. I have to admit that I felt deep compassion for this loudmouthed, uncouth character whose manners are as inexcusable as his own personal hygiene, and I followed the narrative thread concerning his quest with great trepidation. This search brings him into contact with a couple of previously encountered characters – Cogs, the compulsive truth-teller living on a boat and his talking dog Zeke, who are given a good deal of narrative space here and offer some of the most amusing pages in a story that walks on the uneasy balance between mystery and fun.
If it might seem that all these diverging narrative threads could be a recipe for a confusing read, think again, because CK McDonnell does weave them quite masterfully into a cohesive whole that evolves into a veritable page-turner once the story establishes its “legs”: the shortish chapters, which move from one character to the other, encourage you to keep reading, and as the questions and the revelations pile up it becomes almost impossible not to let oneself be swept up in the current of events. Thankfully, there are some stops where readers can catch their proverbial breath, because in this third book of the series you will find the very welcome return of the “sensationalist articles” encountered in the firs volume: from the “discovery” of the origin of spam telephone calls in outer space to an accusation of plagiarism directed at Stephen King, these newsflashes offer the chance for a relaxing laugh before delving again into the plot’s twists and turns.
And as far as the plot is concerned, I’m aware I said next to nothing about it, but to do so would run the risk of spoiling your enjoyment, so I will only say that some of the threads that started in the previous two books reach here their – quite satisfactory – fruition, and prepare the ground, or so I hope, for future stories set in the quirkiest newspaper I ever learned about. And I will welcome those stories with unabashed delight….
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