A diviner is a person with the ability to see the future, a prophet or soothsayer, according to dictionary.com. The world of The Diviners is peopled with individuals with special--shall we invoke the word "magic"?--abilities, but I can only remember one who could actually see the future. So I suppose the title is a BIT misleading, but it's a great title nonetheless.
The Diviners is a huge undertaking, both because the book itself is hefty--578 pages--and because the plot indicates a much longer narrative, i.e. several sequels. It is 1920's America--Prohibition, speakeasies, flappers, and rampant jazz. Evie O'Neill leaves her hometown in a hurry after she accuses a boy she knows of "knocking up" a girl (Yeah, I know. I didn't realize that particular slang term was so old.). It turns out Evie's claims are not based on suspicion. She can hold objects in her hand and uncover secrets about the object's owner. She is shipped off to New York City to live with her uncle, the docent of "the museum of creepy crawlies," a museum chock full of occult artifacts. Evie is a free spirit who loves to get down and get funky. She's a party girl, and it doesn't take her long to start painting the town red, alongside her friend Mabel, the daughter of radical Communists, who dresses and behaves like a dowdy spinster.
Evie is quickly drawn into a strange murder mystery, via her uncle, who is called upon to help with the investigation. It seems the corpses of this particular killer display signs of occult activity. The murderer leaves behind evidence that point to the bible, albeit an apocryphal version, and through their research, Evie and her uncle, along with helpers Jericho and Sam, discover that the murder is a resurrected member of a cult intent on bringing about the end of the world.
So that would be enough of a premise for a good novel, right? But, uh-uh. There's more. Woven within this overarching narrative are the stories of Memphis Campbell, a numbers runner from Harlem with a latent healing ability, and Theta Knight, a gorgeous chorus girl who seems to have some sort of pyrotechnics magic. Then, there's Sam, the fellow who helps out with the murder case and who I mentioned in the previous paragraph; he can will himself to become invisible when someone looks his way. It's apparent these folks are some sort of superhero superforce who are going to be important in the books to come.
Memphis and Theta share a dream of a strange man in a cornfield and the premonition that "something wicked this way comes," something even more wicked that the resurrected serial killer Evie and her pals are investigating. In addition, a woman referred to as Sister Walker is scouting for potential "diviners," testing Memphis's younger brother, who can predict which playing cards she is holding with astonishing accuracy. She shows up at Evie's uncle's museum and behaves cryptically, insinuating that something evil is on its way. Then, there is the scene of the gray man in the stovepipe hat who rips the heart of a rabbit for no apparent reason and walks around being evil and mysterious. So, yeah, I'd say there are more books on the way.
Although the suggestion of further stories and further mysteries is delicious, it is also a distraction from the major narrative in the novel. The defeat of Mr. Resurrected Cult Serial Killer (Okay, he does have a name--John Hobbes, also called Naughty John and the Pentacle Killer) is pretty anticlimactic considering that all the events up to that point have led to his destruction. Evie has a face off with him, there's some scary stuff, a bit of uncertainty--will Evie be his final victim?--then Evie routes him and he's crushed to dust. Cough. Cough. Bye, bye, serial killer dude. Then, the book just keeps chugging along with hints of some future menace even badder than Naughty John. For me, these cryptic droppings kind of took away from the Naughty John plot, and I think the showdown between him and Evie could have been more climactic.
The novel's real prize is its romp through 1920's New York. The reader gets a real sense of life during the Roaring Twenties, and it's obvious Bray did a lot of research into the time period. We get the Zeigfeld Follies, speakeasies, flapper fashion, eugenics, the Harlem Renaissance, and all that jazz. Some of it is a bit overkill, such as when Memphis mentions several Harlem poets and writers who are well-known today. On the other hand, for a large part of the target audience--teenagers--this will probably be their first introduction to the culture of the 20's, so I guess I can forgive Bray's overindulgence in naming nearly everyone and everything associated with the time period.
Overall, a whole lotta fun, this one. Dig in. It's all jake.