I first encountered Nicholas Kaufmann’s fiction reading Chasing the Dragon a wonderful novella put out by the fine folks over at Chizine; it’s a wonderful little fantasy allegory about addiction that I highly highly recommend. When I spotted Kaufmann’s latest series of novels about a man who refuses to stay dead I pounced on them and devoured them wholesale back-to-back. Starting with Dying is My Business Kaufmann introduces readers to Trent. Trent works for Brooklyn crime boss doing odd jobs, particularly retrieving odd valuable objects. He has no memory of who he was beyond waking up in an alley several months ago. It turns out that Trent doesn’t stay dead. Every time Trent does die he wakes up minutes later healed of every wound and the person nearest to him sucked of all life. Dying is My Business lays out these details nicely opening with Trent waking up from one of these deaths. It’s a nice little in-media-res opening and Kaufmann does a great job of hooking you in the beginning then quickly outlining the, admittedly scant, details of Trent’s life.
While the mystery of Trent’s origins and his strange power is a huge part of the novel it is obviously a long-term plan and Kaufmann doesn’t offer many details in Dying is My Business. Kaufmann sketches a simple plot that leans heavily on the fact that Trent know’s so little about his life. It’s obvious from the get go that his boss Underwood is stringing him along and Kaufmann’s every description of Trent’s living conditions and the way his boss treats him reveal that he is seen as something more like a pet than an employee. It isn’t long until one of Trent’s jobs sees him encountering people whose experiences in a similar retrieval-based line-of-work illuminate the stark differences in what it means to be part of team and part of a family. Kaufmann easily plays Trent’s encounter with Bethany and Thornton against his desperate, perhaps subconscious, need to connect with people. The same encounter also reveals a deeper world of the supernatural which in an amusing turn the seemingly unkillable Trent has difficulty swallowing.
Trent’s connection with Isaac, Gabrielle, Phillip, Bethany and Thornton marks an interesting shift in character for Trent. Maybe that isn’t entirely accurate. It is perhaps more that Trent’s connection with this group reveals the falsehood of Trent’s life with Underwood and his cronies. Dying is My Business is full of action from your standard fisticuffs to a huge chase scene as Bethany, Thornton, and Trent flee the mystical Black Knight through the crowded streets if Manhattan. Dying Is My Business is an excellent introductory novel, laying out the mysteries of Trent’s existence while simultaneously establishing the rules of a supernatural world where the Guardian of Magic has gone missing, turning magic into a volatile corrupting influence, and where the other Guardians remain aloof and enigmatic.
Die and Stay Dead expands upon the elements introduced in the first book. Where Dying Is My Business introduces the mystery of Trent’s Die and Stay Dead looks towards answering that mystery more directly. Kaufmann leans heavily on several misdirects throughout the second novel in this regard though none were quite enough to keep me from guessing the truth. Where Dying is My Business set up the prophecy of the Immortal Storm, Die and Stay Dead seems to bring it to fruition; much to the utter dismay of our heroes and the population of New York. Kaufmann once again demonstrates an adept ability to insert wonderful character-driven moments into the middle of huge epic scenes of magic and mayhem. All in all Die and Stay Dead doubles down on the action of the first novel going so far as to end on a bit of a cliffhanger that seems to promise a third novel that pulls out all of the stops. If you are looking for a new urban fantasy series to try I highly recommend giving Nicholas Kaufmann’s Trent novels a shot. I can’t wait to see how events play out in the third novel.