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Spotlight on: Messenger by Edward Lee

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Messenger by Edward Lee Edward Lee, Messenger

The re-opening of the west branch of the Danelleton, Florida, post office is the unexpected catalyst of a string of mass murders committed by postal employees. Branch postmaster Jane Ryan is dumbfounded as one after the other of her employees commits brutal murder and suicide over a period of days. In addition to her precipitous decrease in staff (and you thought the mail was slow already!), she has to deal with her two kids and keeping her burgeoning romance with the local police chief a secret.

Messenger starts out like your average Edward Lee novel: he gets right into lots of lovingly-described sex and violence. The devil's right-hand man (the "messenger") is apparently possessing the local postal workers, transmitting himself from one to the other through vivid and frenzied sexual contact. This book brings to Earth the Hell Lee so wonderfully imagined in his breakthrough pair of "Infernal" novels (City Infernal and Infernal Angel).

Maybe I'm just getting used to it, but Messenger seems to be considerably less bathed in grue than Lee's earlier work. In fact, about midway, it turns into a semblance of a police procedural (a genre in which Lee has dabbled before, co-writing Dahmer's Not Dead with Elizabeth Steffen). In this section of the book, the investigation into the murders becomes the focus, with the pace slowing slightly due to the introduction of the mostly-expository expert in demonology and tabloid-TV celebrity Alexander Dhevic. Dhevic knows a little more than he's saying about some events that happened twenty years ago and their connection to the present massacres.

Lee's fans will not be disappointed, however, because the investigation scenes only enhance the disturbing bits once they return; the whole book is peppered with plenty of set pieces where the author's sick creativity is allowed to blossom, thinking up more and more disturbing ways for people to die. The signature Lee dark humor is here, too. After all, who makes better messengers of evil than those who deliver messages every day? Of course, there's not a lot of character development here; no one really seems to "grow" or "discover themselves" in these pages (although they do seem to be overly interested in fulfilling their destinies). But then we don't go to Lee for characters who mull over their lot in life and write depressing poetry, do we? It's all about the action, and Lee offers up plenty of that in Messenger.

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