Meet Marc Rochat, a
man-child who has devoted his life to being the bell ringer at the
Gothic Lausanne Cathedral, one of the greatest architectural structures
in the world. Eerie things have been going on in and around his church,
including tremblings in the underground crypt and a variety of
gruesomely murdered bodies showing up in nearby streets. Across the
square from the cathedral lives Katherine Taylor, a beautiful young
American woman who is making phenomenal money as one of the
highest-priced call girls in Switzerland; she's a bit too introspective
for her own good and, unfortunately, much too observant of her clients'
peccadilloes. Rochat's and Taylor's lives collide with Jay Harper, a
British private eye who has been sent to investigate the killings and
other strange doings; alas, he has no memory of who hired him or
precisely why he was chosen for the job. And now all the clues are
pointing skyward, where fallen angels are said to haunt Lausanne.
The Watchers, a genre-straddling debut from Jon Steele has a taste of different genres that will work for almost everyone. The question becomes: is there too much going on?
In Switzerland, Marc Rochat, a boy with a limp, lives in a cathedral, and is waiting for an angel. For anyone who thought that this sounds a great deal like Victor Hugo's Hunchback of Notre Dame, you'd be correct. Of course, Marc, unlike Quasimodo isn't waiting for the 'standard heroine,' if there is such a thing.
No, he thinks that his mother told him to save an angel, and that he's found her in Katherine Taylor, an escort who's having a rude awakening about her life. Lastly is Jay Harper, an amnesiac who takes on security work for the IOC (International Olympics Committee), who is attempting to track down a former hockey star. The three of them cross paths, and that's where the work begins. I say 'work,' because The Watchers is divided up into four ‘books,’ and is the first book in a trilogy.
It jumps through time, from 1917 to Marc’s story in modern Switzerland, with a story being built on strong characterization and detailed description, which makes the story easy to follow. However, when the supernatural aspects of the story are revealed, it is harder to sustain the suspense and mystery. The writing remains rich, and Steele has a terrific grasp on his characters, especially Marc, who talks to ghosts, and his cat, and makes clever observations about people. This is where the magical realism is centered, as well as in the story of Katherine, and their lives seem full of interesting things that may or may not be real.
On the other hand, Harper’s story is grounded in reality that has a bit of a noir flavor. This complements the detail that seems to prevent the tale from being very action-packed. However, the characters are interesting enough that it doesn’t feel that the book needs to be that kind of story, the people are what propels it forward.
The majority of the mystery of the book is explored through the perspective of Harper, which works well, because he doesn’t remember who he is, and so as he finds things out, so does the audience. There is a bit of The Bourne Identity aspect to his story, as well as a subplot having to do with the Book of Enoch adds a grander scheme to the entire story.
Some of the time, it feels like the book tries to take on too much, and once it’s clear that the supernatural elements are on a cosmic scale, Nephilim, fallen angels, and so on, the last third of book almost feels as if it should have been given a sequel simply for that aspect of the plot. Fortunately, this is the first volume in a trilogy, and hopefully these beings and the impact they have on the characters will be dealt with in the detail that Steele manages so well in other parts of the book.