Eli and Dag survived a monster.
Two monsters, in fact.
A year later, though, they’re still trying to settle into a ‘regular’ life. Dag is working hard in school. It’s not going great. Eli is working hard at…being a better Eli. He’s eating right. Most of the time. He’s thinking about exercise in healthy ways. He’s ok with how he looks, as long as he doesn’t walk past any mirrors.
He goes out some nights, though. He goes across the lake, back to Bragg, where the monsters were. And he’s not sure why. He’s not sure what keeps calling him back.
When a woman is brutally murdered and an eyewitness claims to have seen the killer transform into a mysterious light, Eli and Dag are forced to set aside their own problems and face a difficult truth: there is another monster out there. Worse, there doesn’t seem to be anybody else who can stop it from killing again.
But not all monsters are the same, as Eli and Dag discover. And the most dangerous monster might be the one who can give you what you’ve always wanted.
The second book in Gregory Ashe’s DuPage Parish series of paranormal-with-a-horror-vibe mysteries, Cascade Hunger catches up with Elien Martel (who has reverted to going by his real name of Eli Martins) and Dagobert LeBlanc around a year after the events of Stray Fears. In that book, Eli and Dag discovered the existence of a supernatural being called a Hashok, a malevolent spirit that fed on pain and suffering, and which had been consuming negative energy from Eli – who, in addition to carrying around a shedload of guilt over the deaths of his parents and brother, struggles with body dysmorphia and self-esteem issues – for a long time without his being aware of it. Eli and Dag were able to defeat and destroy the Hashok – not without considerable risk to themselves – and now, a year later, we find them living together in the house they’ve bought, and getting on with their lives.
Well. Sort of.
After working for a few years as a Sheriff’s Deputy, Dag is now at college studying marine biology, and although he loves the subject, he’s struggling. And Eli… well, he’s still Eli. Sharp-tongued, prickly, damaged, and his own worst enemy at times, he loves Dag but can’t seem to stop himself from doing things he knows will hurt him. When the story begins, Eli seems to have fallen back to his old self-destructive ways, sneaking out of the house late at night and heading to Bragg where he wanders around and binge-eats and then calls Dag for a ride home. Eli knows it’s not good for him, he knows it upsets Dag (and how unfair it is of him to be calling so late when Dag has to get up early for college) but he just can’t seem to fight off the compulsion that draws him back there time and again.
Dag loves Eli very much, but he’s tired. Lack of sleep is affecting his college work, but Eli’s simultaneous skittishness and neediness can be just as exhausting. Even though they’ve lived together for a year, Eli isn’t willing to label what they are – their latest fight was over Dag’s use of the “b” word – and while Dag tries hard to be supportive and understanding (seriously, the man has the patience of a saint!) sometimes it’s hard.
Things between them are still a little bit awkward a couple of days after Eli’s latest night-time excursion when Dag is surprised by a phone call from his old sergeant at the Sheriff’s department, asking him for some information about a domestic – the first one he’d ever attended back when he was an eighteen-year-old rookie. Dag being Dag, he still has all his old notebooks and quickly finds the details of the case – a woman named Ivy had locked herself in the bathroom after being beaten by her boyfriend; Dag had taken the boyfriend in, but Ivy wouldn’t press charges and he had to be released. Now Ivy is dead – likely murdered – and the boyfriend is the prime suspect. But then Dag and Eli hear the sergeant make a comment to one of the other deputies about the “damn fireflies” and they’re both paralysed with shock. It’s been a year, but they still have nightmares about blue fireflies. Has the hashok returned? Or is there another one out there?
Well, I’m not telling – but Eli and Dag immediately set about finding out. Their investigations turn up more dead bodies, stories of lights that look like fireflies (but aren’t) across the bayou and tales of supernatural tricksters and spirits that can grant your heart’s desire – and throwing the proverbial spanner into the works is Lanny, Dag’s ex, who turns up out of the blue, supposedly to pay back the money he stole when he left, but clearly intent on getting Dag back.
The combination of folklore-inspired paranormal elements and Gregory Ashe’s customary brand of cleverly plotted mystery is a winning one, and as in Stray Fears, the author very skilfully juxtaposes the evils of his fictional supernatural entities with the real-life evil human beings perpetrate against each other every day. The encroaching sense of dread builds slowly right from the first page as Eli and Dag are pulled inexorably deeper into a hidden world full of evil spirits and monsters – and the climactic set pieces are tense and exciting.
But the thing I most adore about Mr. Ashe’s books is the fact that while his mysteries are clever, the people involved in them aren’t merely ciphers or character-types, they’re real people with real problems who are bumbling their way through life – as are most of us! – trying to do the right thing, trying to work out who they are and who they want to be and navigating relationships (not always successfully). They’re flawed, complex and they make mistakes – and yet they’re endearing and you can’t help but care about them even as sometimes you want to yell at them to pull their heads out of their arses! Dag and Eli are made from the same mould; being in a relationship doesn’t magically solve their problems and they obviously have some way to go, but their love for each other is never in doubt. I was pleased that the author has chosen to delve a little deeper in to Dag’s past in this book; he’s Mr. Even Keel a lot of the time, but he has his insecurities, too, and some of those come to the fore here as he struggles to process a past betrayal while also trying to be what Eli needs as he grapples with his own demons.
The only slightly false note struck in the book is Dag’s parents, who once again provide comic relief – but I found their enthusiasm (and nosiness) about Dag’s sex life a bit overdone and intrusive this time around. It’s wonderful that they’re so supportive, but I really felt Dag’s embarrassment, poor guy!
That’s my only quibble in what is otherwise a thoroughly enjoyable combination of chills, thrills, humour, twisty plotting, and perfectly imperfect romance. Mr. Ashe said in his most recent newsletter that Cascade Hunger “launches the guys into official monster hunter territory”, and that this isn’t the last we’re going to see of them – which is definitely cause for celebration. I can’t wait to read more of their monster-hunting adventures!