Throughout the evolution of the ghost story, we fans of the macabre have been given literary gifts from some damned fine writers. A number have met universal success, regarded by folks who wouldn't normally touch scary books. Some have even gone on to become definitive touchstones in the genre. Classic novels such as The Yellow Wallpaper, Hell House, and, more recently, 20th Century Ghosts are regarded as benchmarks in the genre. Each writer—from Charlotte Perkins Gilman to Richard Matheson to Joe Hill—have left indelible marks in the literary world, their names summoned as true masters of the craft. They're held in esteem because their writing offers a unique spin on what could have easily been safe and formulaic horror. However, each author defied expectations and offered boundary—pushing tales of ghostly terror. It's safe to say we may soon add Joseph Nassise to that pedigree. His newest novel, Eyes to See, proves Nassise is willing to push the envelope same as his brethren with a grim tale of loss, murder, and urban ghosts. He's given us a tale as creepy as the premise promises, and every bit as sardonic as his protagonist.
Eyes to See is the story of Jeremiah Hunt, a once-respected professor at Harvard University, now downtrodden after the disappearance of his daughter. The subsequent crumbling of his marriage and professional life has put him in a very bad place. Having lost his sight in a desperate moment in the search of his daughter, he's acquired the ability to "see" otherworldly beings. With the help of two ghostly companions, the gentle Whisper and the hulking Scream, he now makes ends meet as a paranormal-investigator—for—hire. He works freelancing gigs in service to haunted folks, exorcising the pesky ghosts when he's able. He's occasionally called on by the Boston Police to assist with murder investigations, his "gift" valued for an uncanny ability to discover otherworldly clues. His services are two—fold. Having never given up on finding his daughter, he works in the hope of uncovering information that might lead him to the truth about her disappearance.
Hunt navigates a world full of dead folk as unaware of live people as we are of them. They wander the earth in pursuit of some unfinished business or other, and Hunt, acting as a mediator between the living and the dead, sends them to their final resting place. At least, the ones he can safely handle. Hunt learns there are much scarier things out there than pathetic shambling ghosts. Some of them harbor great plans for acquiring ultimate freedom—plans that involve sacrificial murder. The only obstacle is Hunt and his band of "gifted" friends: Denise the master of the dark arts, and Dmitri, a man quite literally capable of fighting as ferociously as a polar bear. Together, they face a terrifying, ambitious creature much more clever and sinister than any of them could have imagined.
At the crack of the first page of Eyes to See, I felt an immediate connection to the story because of one crucial element: It takes place in Boston, the city in which I live. Ok, technically, I live in Somerville just across the river, but I digress. There's something especially eerie about a creepy story when your imagination takes you places you encounter on a semi—regular basis. Since Nassise himself is originally from Boston, he's capable of injecting the nuances of the areas in an authentic way. In his hands, the city becomes a battleground for a number of terrifying ghosts and worse. It's this familiarity of the territory that had me looking over my shoulder. However, anyone who's never set foot in Boston will also find plenty to make them shudder. From Beacon Hill's swankiest penthouses to the rougher parts of Dorchester, Nassise's travelogue is full of terror, gruesome imagery, and more than a few surprises.
Nassise sets his stage by juxtaposing our mundane "real" world unknowingly co—existing with the paranormal plane. It works like a contemporary H.P. Lovecraft tale, but infused with a paranormal super team that might have sprung forth from the mind of Mike Mignola. Though it's clear this is primarily a horror tale, Nassise presents it as hardboiled crime fiction with an element of high fantasy. The story crosses genres admirably. Our hero, Hunt, could have stepped out of a Raymond Chandler novel. He's is a veritable Philip Marlowe of the supernatural world. He's a man beaten down by his severe losses, yet perseveres out of sheer love for his missing child. Seeking justice, he longs for closure.
Nacisse's prose is spare, but evocative when necessary. He keeps it trimmed of fat so the pacing is brisk and urgent. His descriptions of haunted places are hair—raising. When our characters encounter supernatural nasties, their fear becomes ours. It's a nice, jarring touch setting a ghost story in an urban landscape, an environment where people are so overstimulated, it's easy to believe the work of a few shady ghosts or demons would go overlooked. From dank basements to abattoir penthouses, Nassise has creepy places covered. We enter his environments with trepidation, yet always wanting to peek through the fingers covering our eyes.
Eyes to See succeeds with edgy, relatable characters, genuine chills, and creative forays into the occult. It's emotionally resonant, as well as horrifying. It embodies all the things we love about the supernatural horror genre, but operates with a great sense of mystery. Nassise has obviously set things up to further explore his great characters in possible sequels. Despite this, Eyes to See has one of the more satisfying climaxes I've read in a long while. Like me, you'll be satiated, but clamoring for more Jeremiah Hunt and his "gift".