This long-running series of paranormal thrillers makes a great change of pace from my usual selection of bitter-bleak mysteries, gruelling spook stories and grimly hardboiled noir. The Special Crimes Unit of the FBI investigates weird things – sudden outbreaks of bad stuff far beyond the spree or stalking activities of a ‘normal’ serial killer.
Each SCU team member has been carefully recruited for her/his ‘special abilities’, psychic traits that equip them to tackle the dark forces which invade human situations. It’s all very matter of fact, no occult rituals or eerie intrusions. Telepathy, the ability to see and speak to spirits, telekinesis, clairvoyance and psychic shielding are accepted as part of the agents’ daily lives as much as organising hotel facilities and psy-proof communications (electronics don’t last long around the more powerful operatives) when they decamp from Quantico to the latest homicidal hotspot.
There are 20 or so book in the SCU series, cunningly organised into self-contained trilogies which feature overlapping characters and a plot strand that feeds into the larger tapestry. I read one early book and then jumped ahead to the Dark trilogy, and had no problem with keeping up with the large cast of characters and the unfolding story arc.
In part that’s because author Kay Hooper does a great job of building a familiar pattern through these books. Initially you meet the local law enforcement officers, frequently one of whom will have a sniff of the psychic in his/her family. They’re stalwart chaps: defenders of the local community, equal mix of male and female, strong jaws and good teeth. Not a lazy, corrupt or incompetent soul among them.
Next, you get scared silly by the ominous awfulness of the disguised negative energy, committing appalling acts of outrage and abuse to terrorise small-town America and attract the attention of the authorities.
Then you meet the psy-teams of each story. These guys have a mix of tricksy talents and are almost always a lovey-dovey couple (though they may not know it yet). The SCU only seems to recruit handsome men with chiselled features and piercing eyes, and determined yet beautiful women who are tougher than their fragile femininity suggests. Yes, indeed, some aspects of the romantic novel are indeed apparent in these thrillers.
In fact, the SCU series feels a lot like a natural progression from all those vampire blood-and-lovefests which introduced an entire generation (generally those of an XX arrangement) to the delights of reading novels. Much of each SCU story is given over to earnest discussion between team-members about the evolving nature of their intimate relationships. I confess to glazing over a little at these extended sequences, but my attention snaps right back when we return to the core story of who / what / where and why is someone / thing killing people, and how can SCU identify it and stop the rot…
In many ways, the SCU series plays to my fondness for the X-Files which, yes, I admit, was as much about Mulder and Scully’s relationship as it was investigating weird things. The Dark trilogy maybe skimped on detail at the very end of the final book, where the key confrontations disappointingly occurred off-stage, but in general I thoroughly enjoyed all three books. There’s a solid mystery at the centre of each story. They’re much less intense than my usual fare, and perhaps some respite from grim reality is a good idea, now and then…
Reviewed by Rowena Hoseason
Here’s where you’ll find all of Kay Hooper’s SCU series
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