Even in a genre tolerant of oddness, The Supernatural Enhancements is going to be a mixed read for most readers. It’s described by the publishers as a ‘paranormal thriller,’ but I’d adjust that and say it has a strong adventure story feel with mystical elements that slow down the pacing. The elements sound like a perfect elevator pitch: a bequeathed and haunted mansion, a treasure hunt, a mysterious society. The main characters are a twenty-three year old English A., who promptly quits his “studies” to travel to America and his new house with his only friend, Niamh, a mute with a distinct talent for electronics. They meet the neighbors, are visited by a mysterious men, there are Events In The Nighttime, and things generally progress along adventure lines.
It is the narrative structure which will likely prove most challenging to overcome. There’s a short two page introduction which grounds the reader, then Part One begins with the date, November 4, 1995, and the title, “A.’s Diary.” After a couple of pages, a ‘Letter to Aunt Liza” follows, then a brief excerpt from ‘Niamh’s Notepad.’ It follows this general layout, although at one point in the third letter to Aunt Liza, it seems to drop this conceit and note a conversation with Mr. Knox, supposedly a friend of the dead uncle. Once Niamh buys a camera security system, the narrative includes ‘Security Videotape: Location,” written in a tv-script-type format. Once A. and Niamh discover the mystery, they work on solving various codes, and the narrative starts to include “Except from Samuel Mandalay’s ARS Cryptographica, London, 1977.” (This appears to be a spoof; a Google search turns up a French site on ancient to modern techniques that will teach the reader, but no Mandalay mentioned). There’s also a couple of ‘photos’ of legal documents, random letters from the deceased uncle, cryptographs, dream journal entries, newspaper excerpts, etc. In short, a variety of styles, formats, and perspectives that are supposed to help the reader feel like they are on a journey of discovery as well, but result in a very disjointed narrative.
To pull together a tale with a narrative like that, an author really needs to have a strong plot with reasonable strong sense of characters, so that the reader feels invested. It reminded me of the 1990s series, Griffin and Sabine by Nick Bantock, in which an artist exchanges letters and momentos with a mysterious woman on a distant island who seems to be having dreams of his current artwork. That story was smaller and less fragmented, so I felt it worked better. For me, the structure in Cantero’s story never gives us insight into Niamh’s history, only her current actions and what she writes on her notepad. We get the most from A., but again, concerned as it is with the mystery, we actually know very little about him. We get the strongest sense of the grounds and the house, although A. deceptively notes, “We have merely perceived a circular sequence of empty halls, large windows, fireplaces, chandeliers, spiderwebs, canopies, and a cluttered desk on every floor.”
The story seems to begin very slowly, and very comfortably, but starts to delve into fascinating and disturbing dreams A. is having. This is ‘Part One’ of the book, and is almost exactly half the page count. In ‘Part Two,’ the puzzle-solving piece takes front seat. ‘Part Three’ is the most comic-book and incongruous of the sections, and likely accounts for the ‘thriller’ in the official description. The mood in all three pieces is very different, as is the plotting. My guess is that Cantero’s earlier background in comics/graphic novels is showing through. In fact, my one-word review would be ‘disjointed.’ Lots of good elements here, but I think they needed more transitions or links to really pull them together to make a story that will appeal to genre readers.