Saturday, August 1, 2015

Lai Wan: Tales of the Dreamwalker (C.J. Henderson and Friends, 2007, Marietta Press)

I realized it would be foolish of me to try and take this, or any subsequent anthology I read, and do individual posts on each story.  I would quickly get bored with writing them, it would throw off the rhythm of my reading (especially since I don't have a whole lot of time for blogging right now), and it would quickly become irritating to anyone reading this.  So I decided to wait until I finished the collection before saying anything further about it.

Last time, in discussing the introductory story "A Happy Mother Takes Away Pain," I got briefly into the origin of the character Lai Wan, who she was and her spate of abilities, so I won't get into it again here.  Suffice to say, she's a psychometrist - anything she touches, she knows the complete history of.  Any person she touches, she knows every secret, every sin, every shame, every thought.  This has, ironically, destroyed her capacity for normal human contact, let alone relationships.

Six of the ten stories in this anthology are by C.J. Henderson working solo; the remaining four are collaborations, one apiece, with John L. French, Bruce Gehweiler, Patrick Thomas, and John Sunseri.  Of these, only one, "Two Great Pleasures," involve the London Detective Agency and Theodore London, the primary character of the series in which Lai Wan originally appeared.  But this is not a Teddy London anthology, it is a Lai Wan anthology.

The stories here are predominantly what might be called "small" stories, in that they don't deal with "end of the world" scenarios for the most part.  Many are almost "day in the life" tales in which Lai Wan's actions affect only a small group of people - but it means a world of difference to them that she took action.

A couple stories that I wanted to single out for particular praise:

"Mercy" (C.J. Henderson): A letter from an old friend leads Lai Wan to intervene in an abusive relationship that's about to reach new lows.  I think this story best showcases what I think is one of the central points Henderson was trying to make with these stories -- that the worst monsters are all too human.

"Two Great Pleasures" (C.J. Henderson): When the London Agency is contacted to take down a serial killer with a gambling addiction, Lai Wan proposes an offer the killer won't be able to refuse.  This story maintained a nail-biting sense of tension throughout, and I admit to chewing my lip a little as the stakes got higher and higher and the interplay between Lai Wan and the killer more and more emotionally charged.

"The Moment After Death" (C.J. Henderson): Lai Wan explains the origin of her powers to an elderly woman while walking in the park, and in the process reveals that even the simplest acts can have profound effects.  This is the final story in the collection and the perfect capstone, a solemn tale that perfectly sums up the profound sadness and burden of power carried by Lai Wan.

I say, check it out.

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