Psychic Skills Investigators
Another winner from Book Club Reading List, Divine Intervention by Cheryl Kaye Tardif is a cracking good read that kept me engrossed until the end. It is a paranormal crime novel with a special set of investigators gifted with psychic abilities, known as Psychic Skills Investigators or PSI’s. The title, “Divine Intervention”, despite the expectations it might raise in the reader’s mind, does not refer to some mystical dimension to the story or to the investigators’ special gifts. There is no particular spiritual subtext to this story, unlike First Grave on the Right, which I reviewed some time ago. In fact, “Divine” refers to Matthew Divine, the director of a Canadian complex known as the Enviro-Safe Research Facility that both trains and employs psychics in police detection. This is what made the novel really interesting and original to me, it’s no-nonsense approach to psychic abilities, treating them as something ‘natural’ and unsurprising, no matter how much they might disconcert the uninitiated. In this subtle way, Tardif has made her own small contribution to breaking through the outmoded scientific paradigm that has been with us since Newton. When ‘minds’ are connected beyond the body and the five senses, then ‘clearly’ the brain is not the origin of consciousness. The situation is really the reverse, the brain acts as a transmitter or conduit for an energy field that both transcends and unites individuals. This is unquestionably a pointer to a spiritual dimension, but Tardif wisely does not make too much of this or she would spoil the fun of this very entertaining crime mystery. Psychic abilities are simply ‘there’ as a natural part of life, there is nothing particularly ‘supernatural’ about them. As the Swiss psychologist, Carl Jung remarked in the 1930’s, Western culture is undergoing a shift away from the rational mode and into what he termed the “psychic phase’ of it’s evolution, and one sign of this would be an increasing openness to the reality of psychic gifts – accompanied by a ferocious backlash as skeptics resisted this shift.
“She’s a Victim Empath. She picks up vibrations-pictures from the victims,” she explained. “Usually she sees their final moments.”
The Usual Suspects
I won’t say too much about the plot of the novel, except to say it included a list of the ‘usual suspects’, corrupt politicians, malfeasant doctors, child abusers, serial killers, and tales of vengeance, blackmail, torture and grisly murder. The three murder victims that figure in the story were all burned to death and one of the psychic investigators has a special relationship to fire. I found that a really interesting twist, her psychic abilities weren’t simply generalized, they were focused on a specific kind of crime. Intriguing. It took me a while to get into the story, after the very interesting introduction that explained the gifts of these uniquely endowed investigators. However, by midway in the book I became really gripped by the story and three quarters of the way through I was turning pages at high speed. The twists were genuinely surprising and believable and kept me guessing until the end. Happily, I did not guess the identity of the killer until Tardif revealed it. The story stands on its own as a compelling, fascinating crime story.
“She reads fires….She’s a Pyro-Psychic,” Natassia bragged. “Jasi is the best there is.”
“I can usually tell you where and how a fire started. Sometimes I pick up the perp’s last thoughts or the last thing he saw.”
“Ben was a highly skilled profiler with the ability to touch someone and feel his or her thoughts. But his psychic abilities were unreliable and infrequent.”
Characters on Fire
Our three principal investigators, Ben, Natasia and Jasi, have complementary gifts that give them a unique insight into the minds of the perpetrator and the victims together. While this gives them an extraordinary advantage in their investigations, their visions and insights are not always clear or infallible. The visions seem to lead the investigators into certain clear directions, until surprising obstacles pop up and sideswipe them, thereby fulfilling the requirement of any good crime suspense novel – surprise and reversal of expectations. What I most appreciated about this aspect of the story is that Tardif does not turn these psychic gifts into a cheap device that offers easy solutions to the crimes. The very convoluted story remained suspenseful until the very end. Kudos to the author for pulling off that trick, very clever and realistic plotting indeed.
However, no crime novel worth its salt can succeed without a compelling central investigator and Tardif delivers here as well with an impressive female lead investigator, Jasi McLellan. Jasi is strong-minded, independent, pugnacious and resolute and the reader learns to trust her judgements and her authoritative drive. She also has a deeply vulnerable side because of the special nature of her psychic gift, an ability that frequently gives her nightmares. Yet she recognizes it as a profound responsibility, this is a gift to be used in the service of others. Along with Jasi’s strength, we see deep compassion and vulnerability. It’s a complex, well rounded and believable characterization and it made me like her at once. She would be very interesting to know ‘in private life,’ to quote Hannibal Lector in The Silence of the Lambs.
As Jasi says of her abilities:
“When I do a reading, I have to be very careful that I take certain precautions,” she explained. “First I have to clear my mind and inhale pure oxygen. If it’s a large fire with multiple victims I have to wear an oxy=mask.”
“I’ve had visions since I was about six. Every time I’m near a fire, I pick up thoughts and pictures. It’s actually very draining. Emotionally and physically.”
“(My gift is ) more controllable than Natassia’s,” Jasi admitted. “Natassia is a Victim Empath. With her job she can lose herself in the victim’s emotions and fears. Sometimes we have to pull her back. We use a reality line.
Tardif introduces a love/sex interest into Jasi’s life with Brandon Walsh, Chief of Arson Investigations, a man she seemingly finds repugnant and whose forced imposition on her as a partner in the investigation she seems to resent. However, as the story develops, we discover that Jasi is actually powerfully attracted to Walsh, despite her conflicted, ambivalent feelings about him. At first I was a bit taken aback by the sudden development into sexual attraction, and some readers did find this aspect of the novel unrealistic. But as I grew into the story of their affair, I found this relationship really interesting and believable. Love and attraction are frequently just like this, conflicted and ambivalent, and it made Jasi’s character even more complex and compelling. Most of all, this special twist revealed the depths of her compassion and felt responsibility, because any involvement in a personal love affair dilutes her particular psychic abilities and throws her off. This means she is faced with a profound conflict between the demands of a personal life and the requirements of her special vocation as a psychic investigator.
Balance and a New Beginning
If I had to choose one word to describe the author’s handling of the psychic dimension to this crime novel, I would say it had great balance. We are introduced to the investigators’ special gifts, we see them in action several times throughout the story, we see how their visions and insights greatly aid them in their investigations and how they sometimes confuse them. But the author has exercised great restraint in the employment of this device. The psychic dimension is not allowed to overwhelm the primary focus of this and any good crime novel – the investigation itself, the developing insights into character and motive, the reversals and surprises that increas dramatic tension, and the final dramatic and very violent denouement. Divine Intervention is a really interesting crime novel, aided and abetted by a fascinating exploration of psychic abilities that is seamingly interwoven into the plot. Well done, Ms. Tardif.
How to End a Novel
A very pleasant surprise awaits the reader at the very end, a surprise I’m now about to spoil, but not too much. Jasi has a vision right at the end of the book of a missing girl and this reader thought, “Oh wow, there is more to this story than I thought,” and I fully expected a surprise twist. This vision comes right before Jasi again rebuffs Brandon Walsh, telling him -again – that any love affair she might have would interfere with her primary vocation. He walks out and she is left with a feeling of deep remorse. And then the book ends – we turn the page, and we’re given some twenty pages of the sequel – which starts right off with the very same scene where the book had ended. And we realize that the missing girl is at the heat of the mystery of the next book in the series and that Jasi has not yet seen the end of Brandon Walsh nor spoken the final world about her ability to balance a personal love life with her special vocation as a Pyro-Psychic.
Divine Intervention at Amazon