Omens

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Read 19/02/2019-27/02/2019

Rating 3 stars

I like to read widely, and Omens was a definite change in pace and style from what I’ve been reading recently. It’s a book that found me through LibraryThing’s take on Secret Santa. The first year I did SantaThing, my Santa bought me two books by Kelley Armstrong. I read one of them, City of the Lost, quite promptly and enjoyed it. For some reason, I left the other waiting. I think I knew what it would be like, just from the cover.

HER PARENTS ARE KILLERS NOW SHE’S THE TARGET

I’d class Omens as escapist nonsense. It’s improbable. It’s also incredible, in the sense that I couldn’t accept any of the characters or situations as believable. The child of a pair of serial killers is adopted by a wealthy Chicago family. The family is so rich that she doesn’t need to find a job. Her boyfriend is from an equally wealthy family and an aspiring politician, potboiler romance handsome and charming. And then, of course, the truth comes out. The woman’s adoptive father, held in memory as a paragon of good parenting, is dead. Her adoptive mother is sketched out as a repressed Brit who can’t cope with reality and hides behind philanthropy. The boyfriend chooses reputation over love, at the urging of his equally cold-hearted mother. The press and the proletariat of reality tv-watching rubber neckers become a ravening mob. Not a single person shows rationality about how a 2 and a half year old child who grew up not knowing who her biological parents were isn’t to blame for and wasn’t a part of the crimes those biological parents committed. So the woman, Olivia Taylor-Jones or Eden Larsen or Liv Jones or Liv Taylor or whoever she might become, goes on the run.

All of that happens over 58 pages of breathless narrative. It’s brilliant in how unliterary it is. It’s like a book version of a Sandra Bullock film.

Running through is a supernatural/superstition theme, hence the title of the book. Liv sees meaning in the slightest thing, from a child’s owl backpack to a shiny penny on the pavement or a glittering pattern glimpsed and then lost in a set of steps leading up to an apartment block.

There’s a commonality with City of the Lost in the remote town where Liv takes refuge and in the hints here and there that all is not what it seems with Liv’s back story. The difference is that the back story is supernatural.

I really enjoyed the folk horror aspect of the book. The murders of which the Larsens have been convicted are ritualistic, drawing on occult symbolism. The people of Cainsville, the town where Liv ends up and where Pamela Larsen grew up, come with a sprinkling of something ancient and immutable. They made me think of the people in Ray Bradbury’s Green Town books, somehow – wise and knowing, but slightly reluctant to share what it is that they know.

It was clunky at times, with Armstrong occasionally too eager to introduce a new plot point or deliver some exposition, but she maintains a good pace in the narrative and the back story of Welsh mysticism really grabbed my attention. I have a mild interest in British folklore, coming as I do from a mix of Lancashire, Welsh and Yorkshire stock, and thought Armstrong did a good job of merging it into this American horror story. The expositional intra-chapters bring together various British-Celtic traditions, from the Welsh to the Cornish, both of which mean foreigner, and the Scots to the Irish. So living in Cainsville we have the Welsh boinne-fala, which translates as drop of blood but I’m not sure what it means in supernatural terms, and outside Cainsville we have brownies (brùnaidh) from Scottish folklore and spriggan from Cornish folklore. Boggarts (brownies gone bad) and hobgoblins (bòcan) bring mischief. Ravens feature heavily, as do black cats, protective gargoyles and magical measures to keep evil at bay.

At heart, it’s a murder mystery, a detective drama led by a plucky amateur sleuth and a dodgy lawyer. Throw in a touch of CIA-sponsored mind control and you’ve got yourself a real page turner. I might even read the next in the series. Well done SantaThing2017 Secret Santa!

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