Friday, September 17, 2010

Midnight Crystal

Midnight Crystal
By Jayne Castle

Back in the days when people believed you could turn lead into gold, a couple of feuding alchemists devoted themselves to the study of enhancing paranormal abilities. In addition to the standard study of base metals and search for eternal life (Alchemy 101) they worked with plants and crystals. Eventually, one invented a noxious potion and the other a lamp-like artifact, each of which could enhance a person’s psychic talents. Unfortunately, both systems come with a high price: certain madness and death (the potion) or near certain madness and death, depending on who you were (the lamp). The inventor of the potion, Sylvester Jones, realizes the potion’s dangerous effects and makes notes in his journals, but never gives up his quest. The inventor of the lamp, Nicholas Winters, goes mad himself while working the crystals that go into the lamp. He becomes obsessed with finishing his creation and using it to exact vengeance on his archrival, Jones, and any of Jones’ descendants the bearer of the lamp might come in contact with. You might say both these guys were a little too focused on their work, to the detriment of anyone who came into contact with them. Apparently, playing well with others was not in the mad alchemist job description.

Fast forward 600 years. On the planet Harmony, Marlowe Jones has been made manager of the Frequency City office of Jones & Jones. Management of the family detective agency has usually gone to someone who has a strong chaos theory talent, so the fact that she is a dreamlight reader makes her something of an anomaly. It also makes her a great profiler, which comes in handy when she is called upon to investigate a theft from the Arcane Society Museum. The object stolen is none other than the Burning Lamp, a legendary artifact created by Nicholas Winters, and supposedly endowed with incredible powers. According to legend, only direct descendents of Winters can work the lamp, and those who can activate all the crystals embedded in it will be compelled to kill all descendents of Sylvester Jones within reach. The Jones family therefore has a vested interest in keeping track of the lamp. Historically, the lamp has an unfortunate tendency to go missing, leaving both the Jones and Winters clans scrambling for possession, so Marlowe decides her best bet for tracking it down is contacting Adam Winters.

Adam, recently made boss of the Frequency Ghost Hunters Guild, is having a few problems of his own. Not only is he having nightmares and hallucinations, someone is trying to kill him. Since death threats are fairly standard for Guild bosses, the feeling that he’s losing his mind is of greater concern. He fears that he will fall victim to the Winters Curse unless he finds – you guessed it – the Burning Lamp and a strong dreamlight reader to help him work it. And if the legend is to be believed, time is running out.
So he agrees to meet Marlowe, even though her choice of location is a bit questionable, in his opinion.
The next thing you know, the two are being shot at and forced into the alien catacombs under the planet’s surface. By the time they surface, they have to hitchhike back to the city, and before noon have become an item in the tabloids. Though they have different motivations, the two join forces to find the lamp, and all sorts of mayhem, not to mention incredible chemistry, follows.

This is another fun, fast-paced story from Castle, better known as Jayne Ann Krentz or Amanda Quick. You always know what you’re getting with Krentz, and she never fails to make her plots and characters seem new and fresh. If you haven’t read the first two books in this trilogy, Fired Up and The Burning Lamp, start with those (in any order) or it will be tricky to sort out what’s going on in this book. If you are not familiar with Harmony, there is enough explanation and back story to get you through, but you can always check the author’s website for a complete booklist.

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