Welcome to Justine Jones’s City of highcap mutants with powers such as telekinesis, telepathy, or the ability to see a person’s psychology - namely their fears and emotions. A city where people wear helmets and hard hats because of a maniac highcap telekinetic who is slinging bricks and killing unsuspecting pedestrians. And, a place where a mutant by the name of Sterling Packard operates a small gang of Disillusionists who target and ‘zing’ criminals thereby rehabilitating them. At this point you are probably saying, “huh”? lol
“Mind Games”, by Carolyn Crane is written in the first person so we learn about Midcity and it’s interesting inhabitants from the story’s heroine, Justine, who has debilitating hypochondria. She believes with certainty that she has an affliction called vein star syndrome that is going to cause vascular rupture and death. She is a medical compendium of signs and symptoms regarding vein star syndrome and believes she exhibits all it's manifestations which takes her to the hospital Emergency Department, regularly. The medical professionals, of course tell her she is fine, Justine, of course, doesn’t believe them. It becomes a revolving door of hospital visits, escalating fear and medical expenses.
Enter, Packard who approaches Justine in a restaurant called ‘Mongolian Delights’ and tells her he can cure her fear and hypochondria if she joins him. At first Justine resists Packard’s charm and offer believing he is some sort of maniacal ‘dark lord’. Then he teaches her to locate her fear and siphon or zing it into another person. The result is euphoric, she feels normal, something she has wanted her entire life. Justine’s normalcy, however is short lived. The effects of the zing wear off within a month and as her former symptoms escalate and her life spirals out of control she returns to the restaurant and Packard. In spite of a concern that Packard’s proposition is Faustian in origin, she joins the Disallusionists. Little does she know.
Justine’s hypochondria was so disabling she was unable to nurture friendships and for the first time she feels like she belongs and has a purpose. They are after all fighting the bad guys, making Midcity a safer place. The Disallusionists each have a particular darkness inside that needs to be let out. Packard trains each member of his unusual team to use their skill on a specific target. As her training progresses Justine begins to have warm and fuzzy feelings for Packard and when she learns he can never leave the Mongolian Delights, is essentially a prisoner, she makes it her mission to free him.
Then Justine learns that Packard has mislead her and she has traded her hypochondria for a loss of freedom. Packard is the only one who can identify appropriate targets for a disillusionist, they cannot just zing anyone or they risk a fatal side effect. In addition, they have to zing regularly or they suffer a horrible fate. We are back to Faust.
In the background of her new life Justine has Cubby her normal boyfriend and she desperately wants to their relationship to survive. However, as her life as a disillusionist becomes more demanding and dangerous, her hope of keeping Cubby gradually disintegrates. She is also very attracted to Packard and he to her, but when she finds out he has lied to her a volatile angry exchange results. At that point Packard loses Justine’s trust, but she has to bide her time as she is now determined to free herself from him.
One of the characters of particular note is Midcity’s enigmatic Police Chief, Otto Sanchez, whose motto is to “keep the city safe from evil doers.” Can anyone say Don Quixote? lol
The plot of “Mind Games” has more twists, turns, and thrills than a roller coster ride. The disallusionist's targets are dangerous, murderous criminals and I was biting my nails on more than one occasion for Justine as she navigates through her new life stumbling more than once while zinging targets and coping with a cornucopia of weirdness. I love heroines who are flawed, don’t take their appearance too seriously and have a dry wit. Justine certainly has all these qualities and moreover, she has integrity.
Ms. Crane developed a fascinating cast of supporting characters who she cleverly integrates into a narrative that is laced with dark wit and comic book references that had me chortling with laughter. Further, she touches on themes such as the destruction of our green spaces, poaching of endangered species of wildlife and the loss of their habitat, as well as world issues. These are all issues dear to my heart.
If you enjoy an original, creative Urban Fantasy that for me has the feel of film noir you may like to give “Mind Games” a try. I kept visualizing Gene Tierney as Justine. *g*
“Mind Games” is the first of the “Justine Jones Disillusionist Trilogy” and I am so looking forward to Book 2 - "Double Take".