In another of my “guilty pleasure” book series, I’m now looking at four books that make up the “Badlands” series written by Morgan Brice.
Simon Kincaide lives in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. He’s a gay bachelor who, among other things, has a Ph.D. in folklore and used to be a professor at the University of South Carolina, but he has left because he fell victim to a smear campaign with his where he was accused of being a bad influence because of his knowledge. He is also a psychic medium and clairvoyant, but that was something he chose to keep to himself. Once he got the boot he made his way to Myrtle Beach where he opened a shop on the boardwalk called Grand Strand Ghost Tours.
At the same time, a homicide detective named Vic D’Amato has been forced to leave the police force in Pittsburgh due to an incident where he and his partner were on the hunt for a serial killer. When they found the killer with his would-be victim Vic opened fire on the perp who then vanished in a green fog that suddenly surrounded the victim. She grabbed the perp’s gun and moved as if she were planning on opening fire, forcing Vic to shoot and kill her. The hearing that followed the shooting exonerated him, but any possibilities of promotion were suddenly dashed. So, Vic left Pittsburgh, his family, his partner/boyfriend and made his way to Myrtle Beach.
In Myrtle Beach, there is a new serial killer the police have labeled the Slitter, due to how he kills his victims. The victims are also connected to the paranormal in that they are low-level psychics and the Slitter is killing them to steal their power for a greater, more nefarious purpose. Through an unusual turn of events, Vic and Simon come together to find and stop the Slitter. It also allows them to fall in love. When all is said and done, Simon becomes a consultant for the Myrtle Beach police department.
Life is good for both Vic and Simon. They have been dating regularly and their relationship has become quite serious. During a trip back to Pittsburgh for the holiday season, they have an unexpected encounter with Nate, the ex-boyfriend/partner of Vic. It becomes a very unpleasant encounter thanks to Nate, which later forces Vic to look at the unpleasant possibility that Nate may not be as honorable a cop as he should be. Meanwhile, back in Myrtle Beach people are mysteriously dying and it will take both the skills of Simon and Vic to determine who is behind the killings.
It isn’t hurricane season, but there is a very nasty storm that is threatening to make its way to Myrtle Beach and to top it off people are seeing ghostly apparitions of Blackcoat Benny as well as nine terrible criminals named the Gallows Nine that were hung in the 1700s. Coincidentally enough, a mansion called Socastee Manor is causing problems for a team of people who wish to restore it. And then there are the mysterious suicides by people who were quite happy. Are they connected, and what does the appearance of the Gallows Nine have to do with Socastee Manor?
Vic and Simon are very much in love. They are so much in love that Vic has decided he is going to propose to Simon that they get married. Unfortunately, Simon is finding himself harassed by his un-loveable mother and his ex-boyfriend, Jacen. They both insist that Simon must come home and resume his life at the university as well as his relationship with Jacen. Vic isn’t having a grand time either as he finds himself being stalked. After surviving a hit-and-run, his reputation is threatened by a series of questionable photographs that have surfaced through social media. This appears to put a mild strain on Vic’s relationship with Simon, but they continue to work together to determine who is threatening Vic, and why Simon’s mother and Jacen are deliberately disrupting his life.
I’ve been doing quite a bit of reading lately, which unfortunately has introduced me to plenty of stories that I have found to be mediocre. Author Morgan Brice, however, has found that “secret sauce” in writing incredibly compelling stories with equally strong characters. Finding that perfect balance of story vs. characters is very difficult. I have read some amazing books where this has been accomplished, most notably K.D. Edwards’ The Last Sun and The Hanged Man, as well as the Big Bad Wolf series of books by Charlie Adhara. Now we have the “Badlands” series and this has been one very entertaining, and even suspenseful, roller coaster ride! First, Brice picked a wonderful setting for the majority of these stories. Myrtle Beach has plenty of history and even mystique surrounding it. Brice gives such wonderful descriptions to the setting that I could almost feel the ocean air during the more beautiful scenes, as well as feel the violence of the wind and rain as depicted in The Rising. Because of this setting, we are treated to some interesting supernatural content that ranges from dark fantasy to full-on horror. By the time we get to the third act of The Rising the situation has become incredibly dire and Brice delivers the ghostly horror-filled action in a way that made it difficult for me to book the book down! She managed to move the story briskly but still provided plenty of story detail allowing the reader to bask in that theater of the mind. This is a tricky storytelling technique as the emphasis could swing from one side to the other, causing the plot to become overwhelmed by the story details, or vice-versa. She manages to avoid that problem and instead writes these books that leave the reader clamoring for more.
Brice’s characters are a joy to read, especially Vic and Simon. With stories of this nature, it would be very easy to take literary short-cuts and make them two-dimensional, but instead, she fleshes them out so well that when something horrific happens to Vic we end up feeling the pain and distress that Simon is experiencing. I was every bit as shocked as Simon from what happened to Vic, and I did shed tears as I felt I was sitting next to Simon in his moment of pure anguish. This is the kind of character writing that I love to read! Even the villains in these books have some depth of character to them. Brice just didn’t write out some mustache-twirling vaudevillian bad guys to serve as plot-complications. Instead, they each have their unique voice and characteristic that not only makes them believable (even the supernatural characters), it also makes them highly unpleasant personalities thereby increasing the tension of the plot of these books.
I have read quite a few LGBTQ books that are part of the paranormal genre, and many of them had characters that did not appeal to me. They have been more realistic, perhaps even “gritty,” and yet I did not care for it. When I want to read for enjoyment, I’m looking for escapism and for primary characters that speak to our better natures. If I want realistic all I have to do is go out of my front door or turn on the TV and watch the news. Instead, Brice has provided me with some thrilling stories that stimulate my imagination as well as featuring some amazing characters that I have grown to love, and I am eagerly awaiting the next “Badlands” book so that I can read the further adventures of Simon Kincaide and Vic D’Amato!
You can purchase this entire series as well as some of her other works here.