Top positive review
Great Paranormal Mystery-thriller
July 12, 2017
I’d describe Lewis’s novel Fire in the Mind (the first book in his Leonard Wise series) as a cross between a supernatural detective story and a superhero origin story. Dr. Leonard Wise is no Sherlock Holmes or Superman when his story begins. Travelling with a fresh doctorate, his sword cane, and a dearth of funds, he arrives in New Jersey to give a parapsychology lecture at the behest of an old friend and ends up embroiled in a murder mystery. He’s just begun to scratch the surface of his psychic abilities, but he’s still haunted by the tragic death of his fiancee Cathy and the spectre of his alcoholism. His old friend Jon Baines, now a dean at Garden State University, and Jon’s wife Jenny are determined to help Leonard get back on his feet while he tries to find his purpose. When a detective who attended his lecture seeks Leonard’s help on a mysterious fire and possible homicide, he agrees to the chance to put his abilities to good use.
Leonard is an incredibly relatable protagonist, particularly when the story delves deeply into his grief and struggles with alcoholism. Even with his abilities and (mostly) eloquent way of speaking, Leonard is far from being the “perfect” hero that often populates fantasy novels. He makes mistakes, he’s haunted in a debilitating way by his past, and he often seems more afraid and resentful of his powers than thankful for them. Very often, he’d be lost without the aid of others, particularly Jon, Jenny, Detective McGee. The detective was my favorite character; he’s no-nonsense and scrappy, but compassionate and creative enough to take a chance on asking for Leonard’s help. The main villain of the story--no spoilers--is a well-crafted portrait of narcissistic evil. The game of cat-and-mouse between Leonard and the murderer is an absolute thrill to read.
Lewis is skilled at blending the fantastic elements of the novel--psychic abilities, ghosts, demons, etc--with the more mundane “reality stuff” of police work and domestic life. He’s clearly in control of the story, and never lets the narrative go off the rails. The few side plots are neatly woven into the main story, and many of the secondary characters end up being connected in surprising ways. The one exception to the well-crafted narrative is the frankly exhausting amount of exposition to fill in Leonard’s backstory. There’s enough happened-in-the past material to make an entire prologue novel; in fact, I double-checked Lewis’s author page to make sure there wasn’t a previous Leonard Wise book I had missed. The exposition is certainly interesting--and does a lot to flesh out Leonard as a character--but it adds a lot of length and plot to the novel.
Fans of both crime thrillers and supernatural fantasies will enjoy the novel. It’s well-written, the characters are fleshed out, and the villain is nefarious and creepy. I look forward to following Dr. Wise’s journey.