Book review: The Impersonator by Mary Miley

Book cover of The Impersonator by Mary Miley.
The Impersonator by Mary Miley.

Leah Randall has been acting all her life, but her talent for timing, impressions, and improvisation will be put to the test. Success will mean more money than she can count, while failure will mean prison, perhaps worse.

After seeing her vaudeville performance twice, Oliver Beckett is convinced that Leah is in fact his long lost niece Jessie Carr. The resemblance is unmistakable. No one knows what had happened to the girl who disappeared seven years ago, but if she turns up by her 21st birthday, she’ll inherit the family fortune.

Perhaps Leah is not Jessie, but all the same, Oliver persuades her that with his help, she can convince the family and the fortune’s trustees’ that she is truly Jessie. Of course, Oliver will expect his share, enough to sustain his appetites for the rest of his life.

Well prepared by Oliver’s lessons on Jessie’s life, home, and family, Leah journeys to San Francisco to meet with the trustees, then live at the Carr family home, Cliff House, at the very edge of Dexter, Oregon. The new Jessie overcomes suspicions, reuniting with her family as though she had never left. But one family member is not convinced at all. Then the bodies of strangled women begin appearing.

The Impersonator is superbly written, transporting the reader to 1924 with expert, passing details such as the “four pans of oxalic acid” to keep bugs out of beds, the contemporary attitudes on race and women, and the yet-to-be-famous faces. A delightful peek at the days of vaudeville and life during Prohibition, the novel moves along nicely, maintaining the mystery of the true Jessie’s ultimate fate, and concluding with a smashing finish.

This debut novel is a personal pleasure, as I have read Mary Miley’s early drafts of it. I am thrilled to read its published, polished, and justly-laureled form.

Review of Rationality Zero

Rationality Zero, by J.M. Guillen, is a sci-fi novel where a team of agents investigate and eliminate creatures from another reality. While on mission, the agents are cool, calm and deadly; but when they are off the clock, they lead ordinary lives, unaware of the covert  assignments they had performed, their memories having been wiped.

The opening was a little precarious for me (due to my unfamiliarity), but once I found my stride, I was immersed in this sci-fi story. It follows our protagonist Michael Bishop and his teammates Wyatt and Anya as they take on a mission given to them by the Facility. They are to travel to Nevada and look into strange readings pinging out there. The mission takes on larger proportions than anticipated, and lacking backup and resources, the team finds itself facing horrors that threaten their sanity, if not their lives.

Each agent is equipped with something like cybernetics and performance-enhancing drugs. Through the Facility’s Lattice, a sort of communications network, each agent is able to send thoughts and receive dossiers and other mission-pertinent information. The access point is a crown of one of his or her teeth. Agents can select among a number of skills and reality-pressing abilities to slot into themselves.

The Facility charges its agents with confronting beings that come from a different reality. These realities have their own physics and logic. Agents can perceive weaknesses in our reality where these creatures can push through. Rationality zero represents our ordinary experiences; the further from zero, the weirder things get.

(The world that Guillen has created reminded me of the Technocrats from the role-playing game, Mage: the Ascension.)

Guillen deftly describes Michael’s immediate world – his gear, the investigation, the horrors. There is confidence in the writing, supported by the shop talk and jargon the characters employ without explanation of their meaning, relying on context of the story to carry that. It’s done well. As is the eeriness, other-worldliness, of the creatures Michael and his teammates encounter. The moments are vivid and suspenseful.

But what gave me trouble in the beginning was the vagueness of the mundane world. When are we? My sense is it is the present or near enough. Is the technology that Michael has access to known by the general population? The horrors the team fights, what is their purpose? Are they simply animals living in an ecosystem that borders our reality, and somehow tear through in some aimless way, or is there intention behind their incursions, and if so, what? In the wider world, what have these creatures done to warrant teams like Michael’s to be formed and take action? Is the Facility a government entity or some shadow organization?

The book would have benefited from a longer look at Michael’s civilian life to give the reader answers to these questions.

Nonetheless, I enjoyed reading the story and would be up for reading more about Michael’s adventures as long as I get a wider view of his world next time.