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Ghoul is the second in Michael Slade's Special X series of novels and features a whole new cast of characters and only slight reference to events depicted in the first book. As such then, it can be read as a stand-alone novel or as the first book in the series easily enough with no previous experience of Slade required.
Inspector Zinc Chandler is an officer with the RCMP working as a foreign liason with other Law Enforcement agencies. Currently back in native Canada and working on a drugs case, he begins to find his current investigation starting to get personal when one of his informants is killed in the midst of a takedown of a heavy metal Bikers gang known as The Head Hunters. Meanwhile, in London, DC Supt Hilary Rand, a female officer fighting against sexist bias and having to constantly prove her reputation to remain where she is, finds herself heading up a Task Force trying to track down not just one but several killers; firstly there is The Vampire Killer who harvests female hearts and ensanguines his victims; then there is The Sewer Killer who leaves grisly and macabre clues at the scenes of his crimes but removes the victims' bodies; finally there is Jack, a homophobic explosives expert with a hard-on (if you'll pardon the phrase) for exterminating what he sees as dirty, diseased gays in the most bloody and horrific ways possible. Throw Sid Jinks into the mixture, a paticulary nasty assassin, and Elaine Teeze, a female succubus who seems to be running the show, and you are left with a Capital City teetering o the brink of full scale terror and hysteria. The papers are filled each day with the Metropolitan Police's failures and Rand knows the clock is ticking before she is very publically removed from the investigation...
Back in Canada, Zinc discovers links betwen his suspect and a punk metal band known as Ghoul, whose lead singer and twin sister have their own semingly apparent connections to events overseas. Zinc's trail leads him to H.P.Lovecraft territory in Providence, a half-sister called Deborah Lane and then on to London itself for a bloody, climatic showdown. The plot is sometimes overcomplicated, the end result more than a little confusing but overall, this is quite an impressive tour-de-force for a sequel that matches pace with it's predecessor.
Zinc Chandler is impressive as a lead character, though here he is often overshadowed by female Scotland Yard officer, Hilary Rand, and something of a ladies man if this book is anything to go by. The choice not to continue with Robert De Clerq for this novel at first seems like a strange one, De Clerq was a very strong character in Head Hunter- the previous novel- but all will make sense and tie together by the time of the next book in the series, Cutthroat. One of the strongest recommendations for Slade's work is in the amount of research and detail that goes into the pages of his novels, not only do we get extensive facts and details about England's New Scotland Yard but also, at the book's end, Slade provides us with real-life examples of psycopathic killers of the kind that feature in the pages of his novels.
There are many links between this book and the first in the series: The Biker gang that Zinc investigates is called The Head Hunters after the title of the previous novel and references are made to that killer alongside references to Son Of Sam, Zodiac and The Yorkshire Ripper; the end scenes take place in a seemingly abandoned wax works lending a touch of the surreal to proceedings, in Head Hunter the action climaxed in a Costume Shop; finally Slade leads the reader in all manner of subtefuge in order to keep fans guesing exactly what the hell is going on right up until the final page just as he did in Head Hunter.
Overall then, this is a flawed but impressive nonetheless sequel that builds promise for the third book and an eventual meeting between Zinc Chandler and Robert De Clerq.....