There aren’t a lot of job opportunities out there for a man who’s half dead. On top of it, our protagonist doesn’t remember who he was before he died. He uses the name Carlos Delacruz because that’s what the ghost and voudon practitioner who helped him get back on his feet named him. Now, Carlos works for New York’s Council of the Dead as an enforcer. (He is hard to kill, after all.) He’s just set off on yet another mission from the Council of the Dead in Daniel José Older’s Half-Resurrection Blues when Carlos stumbles onto a terrifying scheme to destroy the barrier between the living and the dead.
The first thing that struck me about Half-Resurrection Blues wasn’t the fact that the protagonist was half-dead. (I knew that from the publisher’s description.) It wasn’t the fact that there was an entrance to the underworld (entrada) in New York’s Prospect Park. It was the voice of the novel. I’ve heard Older’s voice on the Dear Book Nerd and Reading Lives podcasts. Carlos, to me, sounds like his creator, with the New York accent and deep, vital voice. The dialog and Carlos’s inner monologue are lively with slang and Spanish and swearing. Even if the plot hadn’t been stellar (it’s pretty good), I would have had a great time with this book because of Carlos.
Carlos’s initial mission is to send another half-dead man into the Deeper Death for trying to get a bunch of frat guys to walk into the entrada in Prospect Park. After Carlos does that, the matter seems closed until other supernatural shenanigans involving some truly nasty imps lead him back to a plot involving the entrada. Unlike protagonists in a lot of other (lesser) contemporary fantasies, Carlos fails. A lot. He gets eight kinds of crap beaten out of him. At one point, Carlos gets stabbed with his own sword and stuck to his couch. Still, Carlos keeps getting back up. As he investigates, we learn more about the sinister magic worker who is trying to bring the dead into the world of the living.
The voice and the world that Older creates in Half-Resurrection Blues are incredible. Even though there are ghosts and imps and half-dead people and voudon workers in New York, Older makes it all sound incredibly plausible because the language of the book is so grounded in the actual city and its people. I’m already looking forward to the sequel.
Notes on bibliotherapeutic use: This book may be for readers who feel like they’ve been beaten down and need some encouragement to keep getting back up.