I had never heard of Rebecca Levene until I stumbled onto Pat Kelleher's Black Hand Gang (Abaddon Books 2010), one of my favorite reads of the year. In that novel there is a reference to the croatoans and Dr. John Dee, which, of course, I am very interested in because of my abiding interest in alchemy, Jung, and depth psychology. So, I googled "croatoan" and "Doctor John Dee" and up pops Levene's The Infernal Game: Ghost Dance (Abbadon Books 2010) and I knew I had to check it out.
I was pleasantly surprised: Ghost Dance is a mixed-genre feast of action, horror, spy-craft, true crime, the supernatural, mythology, time-travel and Christianity. It's all there wrapped up in a nice prose package, tightly plotted and briskly presented.
Levene sets the novel in San Francisco and London, with a sojourn to the Mojave desert. In order to stay true to her settings she also incorporates images from American Indian mythology, along with some of its major memes: tricksters, spirit walking, and spirit animals.
The novel involves three point-of-view characters, with two taking the lead as protagonists: Morgan, a member of the Hermetic Divison of MI6 and Alex of the CIA.
The novel, however, begins with a mass murder committed by an American teenager, named Coby, and the visions of Alex, who has a pre-vision of the killings. Coby's acts become the exciting force that ultimately, years later, set Alex, Morgan, and Coby on a collision course.
Morgan is an assassin without a soul, literally, and he appeared in the first volume of Levene's new series: The Infernal Game: Cold Warriors (Abbadon Books 2010). The title, of course, is a pun because Morgan's partner in Cold Warriors was a zombie. Alex is a rich young woman, recruited as agent in the CIA because she can spirit walk. Her recruitment, however, is really a kidnapping; the CIA press-gang her into the service through blackmail and intimidation; consequently, she is never a willing participant and her participation has to be forced and her powers jump-started through drugs.
Two separate investigations proceed through parallel narratives. Alex investigates a cult based in San Francisco called the Croatoans. The Croatoans have gotten their hands on a shofar, a sacred ram's horn, that belonged to Doctor John Dee, and are using it in some bizarre ritual, which the CIA is interested in stopping. Morgan, in England, is tracking the killer of Dr. Granger, one of the foremost authorities on Doctor John Dee. Her murderer is a Mossad agent, who seems intent on killing not only Granger but her graduate students. Through his special talents Morgan quickly ascertains that Granger seeks an artifact, belonging to Dee, that grants eternal life: a philosopher stone, as it were, that is in the hands of a cult in America--the Croatoans.
As the actions unfolds, the two plots intertwine and then join in the spirit world, where good and evil struggle for control of the shofar and the ability to live for ever. However, in Levene's world, the so-called good is not necessarily good; she seems to adopt Rilke's belief that ein jeder Engel ist schrecklich (that every angel is horrifying/terrible).
My conclusion is that the novel is just downright fun to read. Levene throws almost every meme, metaphor, and trope available into the narrative, even pulling off a nice time travel sub-plot that ties everything together. Alex and her bouts with the trickster reminded me of the novels of Charles de Lint; however, where de Lint's novels are kind-hearted, Levene's are tough, sassy, rugged, and brash. And, frankly, I think that is what she intended.