The Essence by Sandi Baughman
Looking for something a little different? How about an author snapping between the 1970s and the present, who talks to one of his characters only he can see to solve a cold case decades old?
Publisher’s Description: A mystery writer battling a bad case of writer’s block encounters some bizarre and unexplainable occurrences on the last city of his book signing tour. The hard-boiled detective, from the writer’s mystery novels, appears from the pages of the writer’s latest book to help him make sense of these strange occurrences that seem to stem from an unsolved cold-case mystery.
Possible spoilers beyond this point.
A bad case of writer’s block is something every wordsmith will face at some point. For Daniel Taylor, that time is now. He’s running on the fumes of his last novel’s release and has nothing new to show for the series that made him famous: the exploits of hard-boiled detective of days gone by, Dick Sunday. He’s had a great deal of success, has many fans, and money is absolutely no issue – but where does it go from here? That is something he’s been struggling with. Struggling that is, until he steps out of the bookstore that marks the last stop of his book signing tour and is suddenly back in the 1970s…
This is one of those novels that bends the paranormal to its goals, rather than write plots that fall into the established molds we’ve all become so familiar with lately. The author finds himself snapped back into the past – the ‘70s specifically – whenever he has anything to do with Helena: a beautiful artist he slowly comes to realize disappeared right as she was becoming famous. Enter Dick Sunday, who only Daniel can see and interact with, to help him solve the mystery of his time travel and what happened to Helena.
The Good: While there are not very many characters in The Essence, they’re all solid. Daniel’s butler has just the attitude I will look for in my butler when I earn my millions. One day, one day… Ahem, moving on. Dick Sunday maintains his hard-boiled, 1930s style throughout and yet learns a few things about the modern world as the story progresses. Perhaps most refreshingly, when Daniel involves a cop with what would otherwise appear to be a totally crazy story, they actually listen to him and the evidence he provides.
I enjoyed the way the Baughman stitched together her version of the paranormal ruleset and created something out of the ordinary.
The Bad: The narrative was a bit slow at times – never to the point of being truly detrimental, but worth noting here. This is not a fast-paced novel. Occasionally Daniel would make a decision or connection that I didn’t think fit well with the scene, but I chose to roll with it – and that supported the question I kept coming back to throughout, as asked in my conclusion below.
The Conclusion: Is Daniel sensitive to the paranormal, or deranged? Yes, he maintains social graces and knows how to interact with people, but he also talks to an apparition of a character he created for his books. Dick Sunday is not a ghost – something we all accept in the paranormal – he is fiction-made-real, but only for Daniel. This made for an interesting question as I read The Essence: should I take all of this at face-value, and follow Daniel on his time-traveling romantic crime solving mission? Or should I contemplate Daniel’s actions, and wonder just how much of this is taking place in his own mind, a mind trying desperately to break through the wall that is writer’s block? Regardless, The Essence was a fun and enjoyable read with a fresh, modified take on the paranormal norms. Hah, paranormal norms. I’m going to use that more.
I have been mulling over this review in my head for almost a week now because I am quite conflicted about this book. Overall, I liked it. Somehow it drew me in and it kept my interest. When I had to put it down to go to work, I thought about it periodically throughout the day. How was it going to end? Was Helena a ghost? Was Daniel going crazy and was going to wake up in an insane asylum to find it was all in his head? Or maybe Daniel killed Helena and beat up Yvonne when he was hallucinating that he was back in the 1970’s. There were so many possibilities and I enjoyed having them play out in my head. This story has solid bones to it. (My grandpa used to say that a house had solid bones when the cosmetic part of house was a mess but the house was actually well-constructed on this inside.)
There is a brilliant story in here but some of the details and thoughts introduced were distracting and actually took away from the story instead of adding to it. For example, when Daniel went back to the bakery that had been the gallery he attended when he was teleported back to the 70’s, he got sick afterward because he laid claim to a point in time where he was both a kid and an adult. This idea was simply brushed over and never really explained. It didn’t add anything to the story. I feel that would be a great story idea that could be used as a main plot in another book but in this book it was distracting.
I also didn’t like that petals of the Helena rose dripped blood at the end. I feel it suggests that she is not at rest and it helped to drag up the violence that she suffered. It wasn’t a comforting ending for me when I think the author was going for one.
The Essence provides some captivating reading material. I feel with a little bit more editing and story development, we would be looking a first rate horror mystery.
If you like this book…