Fiction Reviews

The Last Grave

(2013) Debbie Viguie, Arrow Books, £7.99, pbk, 343pp, ISBN 978-0-099-57456-9


This is the second in the 'Witch Hunt' series, following The 13th Sacrifice' which received lavish praise from the likes of Nancy Holder who said it was “one of the most beautifully written and scariest books I’ve ever read…one of my top ten EVER.”

The Last Grave continues the occult adventures of super witch Samantha who has moved away from her home town of Salem, which is the only option open to her as everyone in the police force in Boston knew what she was and what she was capable of when she had to use her powers to take down an evil coven. Now she is based in San Francisco, working as a homicide detective and trying to keep her witchy abilities under wraps, especially as she has a tendency and yearning for wandering down the dark path of magic, but she is trying to resist this by getting on with the semblance of a normal life by moving in with, Jill, an old school friend and has to put up with working in a new department and getting alone with her new detective partner called Lance.

Trying to be normal is not so easy when the petrified body of a local historian is found at the natural history museum and there are some unexplained earthquakes happening which seem to having an effect on reality and creating slight alternative realities, all of which adds up to some occult shenanigans that need to be investigated, and dealt with. As soon as Samantha and Lance meet the dead woman’s daughter to follow up some leads the occult alarm bells start ringing in her head and the jeopardy moves up a notch or ten.

There is an obvious case of 'middle-book-itis' going on here, with the emphasis on action and adventure and pacy plotting, rather than all out horror. The latter was The 13th Sacrifice was particularly praised for, with reviewers drawing comparisons to Stephen King, no less, but I suppose Viguie (like many other authors do) will bring it all together in the next thrilling instalment. However Samantha is a tad too powerful, and does not seem to be in any real jeopardy or danger, despite her various hang ups about her past and her powers.

All in all, some of the book fairly races along with action dominating characterisation, and while the reality-altering earthquakes might have seemed a good idea on paper (the notes for this novel, not the actual pages of the novel itself) it is an idea which does not entirely come off as convincing, instead it is more confusing. On the plus side, Viguie invokes a nice sense of place, varying from San Francisco itself to a more stark, and deadlier, Santa Cruz setting, yet some characters, like Jill, the flatmate, barely register in the mind, and Lance seems a contradiction between his reputation and what he actually contributes to the plot, while Anthony, the would-be love interest from the first book literally has to phone in his contribution to the story, although given the baggage between the two of them involving the death of family members from the first book, this is a case of watch this space as there are some unresolved somethings going on here.

Naturally there is a cliff-hanger and some revelations involving the major characters to set up the next 'Witch Hunt' book, which is called Circle of Blood and will appear in 2014, and there is a sneak preview at the end of The Last Grave to whet your appetite.

Ian Hunter

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