If someone left the last letter of my name off of my birth certificate, and no one bothered to notice, I would be called Jame. Not bad, I suppose, but I would be living a somewhat unfulfilled life. Our name is part of who we are, and how we are referred to is equally as important. It’s our identity and is unique to us. Kennet Singleton found himself in that situation from the moment he came into this world. His life from then on was anything but normal. His father was a man filled with anger and constantly lashed out at Kennet and his mother. His tragic end took so much out of the family that at the end of his mother’s life, he lived with her in a care home run Ms. (never Mrs) Flavia Costa. He struggles to make ends meet by working part-time at the local crematorium. His boss, Cecil Grinold, is an unsavoury type, cutting corners as he sees fit and has eyes on opening up more crematoriums in the future. He treats Kennet how most other adults treat him: with barely disguised contempt.
But Kennet has a gift, bestowed upon him my God and a now-deceased prophetess Sister Etta. In a tradition that can hardly be described as quirky, Kennet toasts marshmallows over the ashes and this action allows him to ascertain by some spiritual connection with the dead how his charges died. Author Lee Allen Howard has given his character a pretty unique power. It’s what Kennet does with this ability that powers this fast-moving and engaging novel, Death Perception.
When the novel begins, Kennet is informed by Ms. Costa that his mother has died. This hits the young man hard and while you would expect the adults in his life to support him in his grief, the opposite happens. Costa moves him from his room to a dank basment and basically tells him to look for somewhere else to live. His boss is unfeeling and instead adds to Kennet’s workload. When Grinhold catches his employee offguard toasting marshmallows, he fires him. However, Grinhold is living a double life and finds his reputation on the line when the woman he’s having an affair with, Delores, threatens to make their liaison public unless he pays her off. Meanwhile, residents in Ms. Costa’s care home are dying at an alarming rate. Kennet, by way of his power, and with the help of his friend Nate and romantic interest Christy, attempt to get to the bottom of both Grinhold’s and Ms. Costa’s subterfuge.
Lee Allan Howard mixes genres here quite well. It’s got all the prequisites of your typical coming-of-age story, with Kennet coming to terms with who he is and what he can do, using whatever resources at hand to do better for himself and his mother’s memory. His burgeoning romance with Christy is sweet without being sickly so. The mysteries Kennet investigates are two-fold: his power tells him that how some of the people he cremated died doesn’t match up with their death certificates. He is told by the spirits of these people to avenge them. Kennet needs to do what he’s being asked. Then there are the separate plots by Grinhold and Ms. Costa. What, if anythung, do they have to do with the dead people that ‘talk’ to Kennet? Then there is the horror behind everything that’s going on. The adults, the so-called responsible people, are committing heinous acts out of greed and and an overblown sense of self-importance. None of them come out well. The spirits will have their vengeance.
Death Perception rattles along at a decent pace and Lee Allen Howard peppers his narrative with engaging character work. I liked Kennet and wanted to see him survive and expose the fraudsters in his midst. I feel there could be more to come from this young man in future books. I would love to see him delve deeper into the origin of his gift and how he could use it for further good. What I would have enjoyed is more horror, though. For me, there wasn’t quite enough of it. I wanted the evildoers to suffer more, instead in one case taking the easy way out. Still, this is a small thing because the book is enjoyable and perfect for readers unsure of whether or not they would enjoy a book with horror elements. I will look out for more of this author’s work.