Haunting the Dead - Review

Haunting the Dead (paperback, ISBN 1-58846-837-2 - $6.99 US) is an anthology of four novellas released by White Wolf tying into their Orpheus role-playing game. As we find out from the back-cover blurb and through the course of the book, the Orpheus Group is an agency that sells itself as a service for contacting the "other side." "Its investigators can separate spirits from their living flesh and interact with the ghosts and spirits caught, unseen but often felt, in our world." The four novellas are tied together by the common thread that...something is active on the other side, and it's pissed.

Note: Some Spoilers Follow!!

The first story is The Grass is Always Greener by Stefan Petrucha (writer of Moonstone's Devil in the Details). This tale is set entirely within a dormitory apartment where a group of college students have gathered to take drugs and watch a "freaky" TV broadcast. The protagonist and POV character is Shutty, a goth-style student who begins to notice, along with the reader, strange things going on. This is basically an intro to the anthology concept that something is going on that is targeting the Orpheus Group and giving it problems. There's also the running theme of the television signal transmissions that we see in the other stories. The story itself is good, although it's pretty clear what is going on and the basic concept driving the story (ghosts that don't know they're ghosts) isn't particularly new. The concept is handled with panache although we don't actually find out much about Orpheus here since Shutty isn't a member of the group until the very end. There's a few minor typos ("waist" misspelled "waste", pg. 67), and the punning sub-chapters didn't really do much for me. But all of the characters are well-drawn and generally interesting.

The second novella is Eurydice by Seth Lindberg. This gives us a more in-depth look at the Orpheus Group through the eyes of one of its members, Anders. This novella gives us the best look at Orpheus where we learn it's basic a corporation, not too different from other Corporations. Anders, an individual with suicidal tendencies, loses his girlfriend Lila under mysterious circumstances when she's on a recent case. When his superiors aren't forthcoming, Anders teams up with two other agents to find out what's going on. I found this the most interesting of the four stories as it goes the furthest to establishing how Orpheus works, investing us in the Group so we feel its imminent destruction more strongly. Anders is also the most interesting of the story protagonists and author Lindberg has some fun with the idea of a guy with suicidal tendencies who knows there's something on the other side, and that his girlfriend is waiting for him. The ending is a little murky, but overall I thought this was the best story of the book.

The third story is Dia des los Muertos by Allan Rausch. Eileen Savitch and her ghost-partner Teo are off to Guadalajara at the behest of the local Orpheus representative to help a widow deal with her dead husband's ghost haunting a construction site. Their mission becomes far more complicated when they find the ghosts of the city are particularly active and a local cult group is working in conjunction with the "big menace." Oddly, while I might have expected a few Night Stalker in-jokes in Stefan Petrucha's work, it seems that Mr. Rausch is the one who slipped them in. The local Orpheus man is Cardinale (Firefall), workers are mysteriously dying at a construction site (The Energy Eater), and the whole plot is more then a little reminscent of Legacy of Terror, what with the Lord of the Smoking Mirror as an antagonist and all. It's a nice atmospheric piece although Teo dies a bit too casually and it ends on a somewhat open-ended note. I suppose that's a bit unavoidable with the general theme and all, but all four stories kind of end that way and it gets a little boring.

The fourth and final novella is Corridors by Rick Chillot. Ed Lighthouse is the subject of an Orpheus experiment and wakes up in a hotel surrounded by other ghosts as well as...other less beneveloent creatures that are feeding on the dead. This story juggles scenes geographically and temporally, providing headers to identify place and time. Anyone familiar with the Doctor Who episode Warrior's Gate? It has that kind of feel to it, particularly since the past and the present start mingling and on occasion we get scenes told from two different points of view. Unfortunately, the end result is a little confusing and, again, the story ends on a open note.

Overall, I found all four Haunting stories a good read - the second one is a little slow but the characterization makes up for it. Each of them is readable in a single sitting and entertaining enough that you want to do so. The stories are fairly comprehensible even if you're not familiar with the Orpheus game from White Wolf (I wasn't), so you needn't worry that you'll be clueless without that information. Some of the character arcs and all are resolved, but overall none of the four novellas provides actual closure to the storyline. Some readers might find this frustrating - some might find it a temptation to pick up the role-playing game from White Wolf. To each their own. If interested in purchasing, check out to amazon.com or other online sources such as Barnes & Noble, or check with your local hobby store or bookstore.

Kolchak Main Page