This new Tim Powers, a sequel to 2018’s Alternate Routes, couldn’t have come at a more opportune moment. We’re back in L.A., but no longer fleeing from the ghosts of the highway. Instead, we’re dealing with heiroglyphs and a supernatural cult that wants to raise a god – and needs Vickery and Castine (who have visited the afterlife and returned) to make it happen.
From movie sets buried in the desert to Topanga Canyon Boulevard and the Sunken City, Powers takes us once again on a tour of secret Los Angeles, visiting forgotten B-Movie actors and 60s motorcycle gangs, offering as he goes supernatural explanations for the dream-like events of the recent past. As always, he follows the rules of his extended universe of ghosts and the occult, with colourful metaphors drawn from the here and now (or then). Standing at the La Brea Tar Pits calling on a ghost, for example, Vickery and Castain have to both put their fingers on something and speak in fractured sentences.
Vickery and Castain are needed for the ritual because they broadcast on FM in an AM universe. Castain is tracked by the cult using a bloody sock she left behind in the previous instalment, and Vickery is trying to recover the book that contains the ghost of his never-conceived theoretical daughter.
It’s all, when you try to explain it, mad as a box of frogs. When you read Powers you will, like me, find yourself looking things up (Sunken City? check) and noticing the everyday weirdness that surrounds us. Just now, on my bike ride, I came across a blackened, desiccated frog, one froggy hand and its head raised to the sky, frozen in the process of trying to cross a road, and yet somehow completely dried out – and of course my imagination went wild.
I’ve said before that these Los Angeles set novels are entertaining enough, but not equal to his best work – nor even the earlier series that started this strand, the Last Call trilogy. But they are entertaining fun. Vickery and Castain don’t grab me as characters as much as, say, Michael Crawford in The Stress of Her Regard, or Andrew Hale and Elena Teresa Ceniza-Bendiga in Declare.
But if like me you’re hooked, you want this. And then, like me, you might just re-read The Stress of Her Regard.