Daniel Hecht City of Masks Reviewed by Terry D'Auray


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City of Masks

Daniel Hecht


US Hardcover First

ISBN: 1-58234-341-1

438 Pages; $24.95

Publicaton Date: January 17, 2003

Date Reviewed: February 17, 2004

Reviewed by: Terry D'Auray © 2004



Mystery, Horror

'City of Masks' introduces Cree Black, ghost-buster, detective and shrink to the spirits, in what is sure to become a series of suspense novels that will find increasing popularity in a mystery genre overpopulated with far more orthodox protagonists. She's an engaging, unusual character, mixing the paranormal with the scholarly, empath to ghosts and savior to her clients. Hecht's novel is an interesting and accomplished work, but it is unable to channel its own strengths into a thoroughly enjoyable reading experience.

'City of Masks' is the tangled-web-we-weave story of Lila Beaufort, a New Orleans blue blood, who has moved back into the family's historical mansion only to be tormented, attacked and driven to near-suicide, by the residence's resident ghosts. The house carries a history of violence, including the murder of a local New Orleans newscaster, but that is just a small piece of the puzzle that faces Cree Black as she unravels the past and confronts or communes with its paranormal persona.

Hecht builds a complicated and layered story, driven equally by its primary character, Cree Black, and the paranormal milieu in which she works. Cree's past, Lila's past, the Beaufort family's past, the reigning Beaufort matriarch, psychology and para-psychology, New Orleans atmosphere and history, and, of course, romance, all meld together in the lengthy narrative.

Widowed Cree Black is a specialist in scientific ghost busting, with an empathic ability that is rooted in a post-death encounter with her dead husband. Unwilling to confront or explore her own past, Cree is nonetheless a dedicated and successful explorer of the pasts of others. As written by Hecht, she is a thoroughly textured, multi-layered, and quite fascinating character, walking a narrow and dangerous line between the objective, fact-finding detective and the empathic seer, her psychological integrity always at risk.

Hecht's story is a masterfully well thought-out panoply of contradictions - parallel exorcisms, Lila's and Cree's; parallel professionalisms of Dr. Paul Fitzpatrick, Lila's traditional psychiatrist, and Cree, Lila's ghost-busting channeler; strong-willed, powerful and intelligent women and dilettantish high-society men; Christianity and voodoo. His plotting is controlled and ambitious and his writing is up to the task. He ably describes the push-pull emotions of budding romance, the deep-seated and all-too human motivations that underpin often devastating actions, and the ultimate truth - that wounds, however long or ably buried, rarely stay that way.

'City of Masks' is a story of violence, deceit, betrayal and retribution, with a promising premise and original characters. But for this reader, it was ultimately a story sacrificed to its elements. Repetitive expositions of Cree's scientific credentials, lengthy justifications of the credibility of paranormal pursuits and involved references to past cases sidetracked the narrative. Well-researched, but dry and scholarly discussions of traditional psychological theories versus non-traditional ones grew ever more tedious. Cree's partner, Ed, meant to be a competing love interest, was literally a phoned-in character until the final pages of the book, and his personal paranormal experience was yet another meandering side-track to the primary story. Suspense stumbled, tension vanished - the narrative thread went missing for pages on end. Pacing is essential for suspense fiction, and 'City of Masks' snakes like the Mississippi delta in its path to a conclusion. Hecht's characterization and evocative setting are excellent and the premise is intriguingly original. But the sum of the parts simply meanders astray and finally, misses the mark.