Downpour is the sixth book by Seattle-based author Kat Richardson starring main character Harper Blaine. Many cloudy Washington moons ago, Harper died briefly. When she woke from this brief death, she gradually became what Richardson coinsa “Greywalker”—someone who can see and manipulate death, ghosts and magic. Through her many adventures in the first five books, Harper has become stronger and more able to use the “Grey” to her advantage. Now that the five-book story arc seems to be resolved, Harper can move forward and focus on figuring out who she is since her most recent death and what she can do.
Harper heads out to the Olympic National Park west of the Sound, taking her through Port Angeles and the now-familiar Forks. This story begins with what seems like simple pre-trial work for lawyer Nann, using her role as a private investigator to get away from the deadly Grey work. It doesn’t work for long. Harper immediately knows that there are some funky, broken magic issues going on in Lake Crescent, which derails her simple task. As in Underground and Vanished, Richardson successfully fishes in the worldwide mythological ponds for inspiration. In Downpour, the monsters of various Asian cultures are brought to life through a side character’s teaching and are found in further living color in the forest and by the Lakes.
While searching down a potential witness on the Peninsula for a client, Harper wastes no time running into the new strange creatures of the Grey: white creatures with the jaws of a bulldog but sporting large black horns, huge and strong enough to rock her Rover as she rushes to get back behind the wheel and accelerate away from the things. Once she gets away from them, Harper gets out of the car to find that the usually quiet Grey is abuzz with strange patches of color and continual noise. It has to be asked: are the strange creatures here because there is something very wrong with the Grey here, or is the Grey going very wrong because of the creatures?
Her meetings with the demon Jin are somewhat unusual. Her sassiness and feistiness aren’t usually quite at this level. In their second meeting, she manages to pull the Grey up into her hands like a “flash fire” and knocks him down when he implies that she won’t hold up her end of their bargain. Jin’s description has power too: “His white monstrousness bizarrely clothed in his Italian suit… and casting a green glow around him” wars with the image of his double-exposed face, seeing both a demon and a human all at once. It is perfectly, utterly visual when overlaid on the previous descriptions of the forested lake terrain. One of the truly best things about Richardson’s world is how easy it is to visualize it through Harper’s eyes and then walk through her world. She creates a delightfully hazy, ghostly, colorful world in all three dimensions and the magical one, too.
The lay of the land begins to change, finally, on the back of a deal made with the vanity-ridden Jin. Spotty information is filled in with bright stitches of the Past, big and little bits that she really needs to know to fill in the Now. Having a firmer grip on the relationships around the Lake makes all the difference—if one can truly trust a demon for knowledge! Harper learns that this variety of demon has a “weak soul” and can only grow—which is indicated by growing a new tail to add to the previous few—through consuming a partner’s enlightenment, to eat the human. It is the only way for a demon to escape hell, to become human again. Battening down her disgust, Harper is actually able to decipher the assumptions of the past.
Harper Blaine is a tough name to wrap your head around when just reading for the joy of reading—it sounds like a character rather than a real person, but if that is among the biggest complaints in the series, Richardson is doing alright. Harper is a likable and understandable character: “I’m not too proud to make myself out to be a fool if it serves my purpose,” as many of us can easily see making up a little “I got lost” wide-eyed lie if it would leach a little info out of the situation. Chaos the ferret is more of a constant companion in the first half of the book than is usual, offering a wide slash of comedic color to the murderous landscape. The variety of people encountered is appreciated. It takes all kinds to make up the real world, and Richardson incorporates that truth into her writing. From frumpy and grouchy to beautiful or strapping to bald but naïve-appearing, the cast of supporting characters varies nicely in age and looks and attitudes. Once in a while, the dialogue reads like a word of the day calendar: “…aside from the depredations of carpet snakes…” or using the word “saponified” with a couple of high school kids. “Depredations” isn’t a word often heard in daily conversations, however “carpet snake” is rather perfect for a feisty ferret—so does she redeem herself in the very same line?
For fans reading to be able to gulp down a bit of Washington State through the Greywalker and her activities, this one offers a bigger bite of the area. One positive of writing a mythos in Washington is that the weather can be used as a character in itself—its moods affect the good guys and the bad alike. It helps distract from the slender bits. Rather than following up strong on Harper’s death, Downpour is more of a stand-alone book, once the lay (ley? Hah!) of the land is understood. Richardson has more than found her stride as a writer with strong plots, a heroine who is actually smart and not invincible, lyrical writing, and solid creepy bits.
Solis catches up to Harper, grilling her on the whereabouts of Will Novak. After learning that the dog-with-a-bone-cop Solis thinks that brother Michael was somehow his brother’s doom, this becomes one more task on her to-do list. Save the residents around the Devil’s Punch Bowl, find the murderer and magic thief, and somehow take the wind out of the sails of the crazy monsters, while balancing background research for her lawyer friend Nan, her love with Quinton the much absent, taking care of Chaos, and learning Chinese lore. All in a very long, cold, wet day’s work.
It takes a lot of digging, a lot of pushing, and a lot of being attacked by various creatures before she figures out what the magic is and why it’s gone off track. As sudden understanding hits, she knows what and why and whom, and even what needs to be done to fix the magical chaos that reigns over the Lakes now. Like all really good murder mysteries, magical or mundane, the Bad Guy is unexpected though perfectly obvious once revealed; which is, of course, both satisfying and humbling.
While Richardson doesn’t make Harper swim in hearts and lace and hormones, the bit of romance is handled nicely. The epilogue tisd up any loose ends happily enough—and romantically, Happily Ever After.