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by Kelley Armstrong
Random House Canada, August 2013
496 pages
$29.95 CAD
ISBN: 0307360520

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

At twenty-four, Olivia Taylor-Jones appeared to be a golden girl. The daughter of a wealthy Chicago mercantile family, expensively educated, and engaged to a rising political star, a fortunate destiny seems truly marked out for her. Then, one day, she abruptly discovers that she is not who she thinks she is. She is in fact adopted, the daughter of a notorious pair of serial killers who dispatched four apparently unrelated couples in a series of occult-themed murders. Both her parents are still alive; both are serving life sentences. Even her name is false - she started life as Eden Larsen.

If the shock were not bad enough, the tabloids are all over the story, broken by an unsuccessful blackmailer. Her adoptive father, who knew her origins, is now dead; her mother, who didn't, is appalled. Hounded by the press and determined to save her family and fiancé further embarrassment, Olivia flees Chicago, winding up in the small Illinois town of Cainsville.

It's an odd place. No churches, lots of gargoyles, some of which appear and disappear with the sunset. The residents are very pleasant for the most part, however, and take an unusual interest in Olivia, not altogether surprising, since Cainsville seems a town that time forgot (though it does have broadband). In short order, she finds an apartment, takes a job in a diner, and joins up with one Gabriel Walsh, a lawyer, to look into her past and that of her biological parents. Her birth mother, Pamela Larsen, is insistent that she did not commit the crimes. Olivia is unconvinced, but hopes it may be true.

For the most part, the narrative is largely concerned with a fairly straight-forward investigation of the facts surrounding the last of the murders. But there is a heavy whiff of the occult threaded through it all. Olivia has a certain talent for recognising signs and omens, though not always for understanding what they mean. Gabriel's mother has second sight. The town was established by a group of settlers, mostly from Wales, who brought with them remnants of the language and a substantial body of Welsh occult and mystical belief. There is a cat who seems determined to become Olivia's familiar.

Armstrong is the Canadian author of the successful Women of the Otherworld series as well as several young adult novels. OMENS is intended as the first of a series, each one of which, I presume, will investigate each of the murders. As the foundation novel of the series, it had to cover a lot of ground and as a result is somewhat less focussed than it might be. In some ways, it's a bit of a genre stew - largely private investigation, with a fair dose of the occult (though to be fair, conclusions are all reached without paranormal intervention), coupled with a bit of sci-fi and the inevitable romance. On the whole, it works pretty well and will probably work even better in subsequent episodes.

Canadian readers may find amusement in the Canadian allusions lightly sprinkled about - Cainsville, for example, seems an odd choice for a town name, but to a Canadian, it immediately suggests Jacques

Cartier and the "land God gave to Cain." There are some obvious reminders of notorious moments in Canadian criminal and social history as well. But none of these are intrusive, just an author having a bit of fun on the sly.

At this point, it's not altogether clear where this series is headed. Readers hoping for a nice dose of horror will be disappointed - OMENS is closer to a suspense thriller-cum-detective story. The paranormal elements so far seem more decorative than integral. On the other hand, the relationship between Olivia and Gabriel is not wholly conventional and the final page seems to promise considerably more in the way of supernatural terror to come. So there is promise here, if Armstrong is willing to take her occult content a bit more seriously.

§ Yvonne Klein is a writer, translator, and retired college English professor who lives in Montreal.

Reviewed by Yvonne Klein, October 2013

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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