Title: The Gumshoe, the Witch, and the Virtual Corpse
Series: The Gumshoe: Book One
Author: Keith Hartman
Publisher: Amazon/Kindle Unlimited
Length: 532 Pages
Category: Sci-Fi, Murder Mystery
Rating: 3 Stars
At a Glance: It takes some patience and perseverance to get through the subpar editing and to the meat of this story, but I finished The Gumshoe, the Witch, and the Virtual Corpse and was, for all intents and purposes, glad I stuck with it until the end.
Reviewed By: Lisa
Blurb: In a near future America on the verge of civil war, a gay private detective and a tech-savvy witch investigate what might be an occult conspiracy.
In the summer of 2045, Atlanta is a city on the verge of panic. A killer is stalking her people, leaving behind eerily beautiful crime scenes painted with occult symbols. Is he an insane artist, carving his work out of flesh and blood? A satanic sorcerer, hoping to bring about the end of days? Or a political operative, trying to terrify the electorate into voting for his party?
A handful of people have the pieces to the puzzle, but they are scattered through the city’s subcultures: A street-smart gay detective hunting for his kidnapped partner. A black cop, trying to use high tech forensics to solve crimes that seem to be right out of the Middle Ages. A Wiccan journalist who employs search engines and scrying spells with equal skill. A televangelist with an eye on the White House, and the Christian rock star who wants to take him down. A transgender Cherokee shaman trying to right a wrong from the 1800s.
And Benji, the fourteen year old boy at the center of it all. Who thinks that his biggest problem is what will happen when his strict Baptist parents find out that his new girlfriend is a witch.
Together, they might be able to stop what’s coming. If they can stay alive long enough to find each other.
Review: Keith Hartman’s The Gumshoe, the Witch, and the Virtual Corpse was originally published in 1999 and has an obvious satirical inclination to it, though reading it in 2022, I could say that some elements of the story seem a bit too on the nose, which is in no way a positive testament to its relevance today. Hartman digs into the Satanic Panic craze of the 80s and 90s to flesh out a society that is segregated by the self-appointed Crusaders for Christ—whose mantra is “One Nation Under God” (emphasis on One is the author’s)—and everyone else is deemed blasphemers and occultists and devil worshipers. Oh, and all the Catholics are gay (there are even genetic tests for that). Schools are segregated by religious/spiritual practice. Neighborhoods are segregated by religious/spiritual practice. There is a Baptist Reverend Senator, the leader of the Christian Alliance Party, who is running for the office of the presidency and is willing to incite a holy war, using his Christian Militia to achieve his goals (you know, your average, everyday theocratic dictatorship). And there are some people who would like to take him down.
The first tie that binds this story together is when it becomes evident there is a missing person, and that person has a connection to several characters, including the Gumshoe, the Witch, and the Singer. The greater mystery, however, involves the exhumation and occult-style desecration of a corpse, and a subsequent series of murders with ritualistic elements that leads both the public and law enforcement to deem them satanic in nature. All that, and how does a fourteen-year-old boy named Benji fit into it? The Gumshoe, the Witch, a transgender Native American Shaman, the Police, the Reverend Senator: a host of characters are in on various parts of this cat-and-mouse race to find the killer, which is where the story gets interesting. It takes patience and perseverance to get there, but I finished and was, for all intents and purposes, glad I stuck with it until the end.
There are some considerable caveats to The Gumshoe, the Witch, and the Virtual Corpse. First and foremost, the editing—if it was edited—is subpar, and I’m not sure why, in twenty-three years, that hasn’t been corrected for at least the digital version of the book. The second factor is that for the first quarter of it, I had no idea what I was reading. So much so that I had to read the blurb again to make sure I wasn’t getting an anthology of short stories/flash fiction from the Gumshoe’s case files rather than a cohesive novel. The story is told from the point of view of multiple characters, which doesn’t necessarily work for me as a narrative mode, but once the significance of getting their diverse perspectives became clearer, the more accepting I was of hearing from all of them.
Hartman’s version of the near-future is not at all one I’m interested in seeing come to fruition. It’s one dominated by a media bias that sensationalizes: the warning that “some images may be disturbing” no longer applies as guts and gore fill every screen for consumption by the masses (though sex and violence settings can be dialed down for the kiddos). The consistency in this otherwise dystopian hellscape, however, are the hypocrisy, the guns, the violence, the prejudices, the judgement, and the political corruption, so go humans I guess. There is also the hint of a subplot involving the Gumshoe—who I mistakenly believed would be the leading character, but wasn’t—between him and a sex worker that the PI might(?) have feelings for. I didn’t love this book enough to move book two up on my reading list, but I liked Hartman’s voice and writing style enough to make room for it on my TBR pile.
You can buy The Gumshoe, the Witch, and the Virtual Corpse here:
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