Joanne Walker is a cop, but she is also a shaman. Ever since her powers awakened late last year, she has been troubled by a number of strange incidents, and she's fought a God and lost her spirit guide, Coyote. Although she resisted them at first, she has become used to them, and now even accepts them. But she hopes that now she'll be able to settle down into something approaching a normal life.
It's before Halloween, but Joanne and her friend and fencing teacher, Phoebe are throwing a Halloween dress up party for her friends and colleagues in the Police Force. Joanne has given in to Phoebe's requests and worn a Xena, Warrior Princess, costume to the party. The sign of the success of the party is that everyone is at the party, not only Joanne's boyfriend and former co-worker Edward (who she and everyone call Thor because of his resemblance to the Norse God), but her captain as well.
But at the party, something unusual happens. The dancers are attacked by a gray, mist-like goop, and it's up to Joanne and her partner, Billy to prevent the goop, which is composed of souls, from killing the people at the party. Joanne helps to get rid of some of them by opening a door to the afterlife in her chest. Most of the souls flee to it and escape, but a larger clot of souls blocks off the light, preventing any others from finding peace.
Billy and Joanne clean up from the party, and accompanied by Billy's wife Mel and their Captain. Morrison, they return to Joanne's house to investigate her inner garden, the place inside of herself that powers her Shamanic abilities. In there, they find some of the souls, and most of them are of children. The eldest soul is a fourteen year old girl, and she tells them that they are "sown" souls. It takes some more questioning, but they find out she means Sowen- all were killed around Samhain, 50 years apart. Once again, they try to offer the souls rest and peace, but these would rather have vengeance on their killer, and they are willing to do anything, even take over Billy, to do it.
Joanne is able to free Billy from the spirits, and she feels all right, but she's determined to find out who killed these children and bring him or her to justice. The problem is that the spirits are so old, she has very little chance of succeeding, and who can kill children over so many years without dying themselves?
The next day, Joanne and Billy are called to the scene of a murder and disappearance at a museum in Seattle, and it turns out what has been stolen is Matholwch's cauldron, famous for bringing back the dead in Irish Myth. Not that they actually know it is Matholwch's cauldron, but it's big enough to be, even if it's made of iron-banded wood rather than iron. The two security guards who were in the museum are also in danger- one is dead, although Billy interrogates him anyhow, being as how he can see and talk to the dead, but the other security Guard is missing.
Correlating when and where the cauldron was stolen makes it the same time of night that the party was disrupted by ghosts. Joanne attempts to try and track the cauldron with her shaman sight, and knows that the thing is evil. It leaves behind spiritual stains like black tar, and when she looks out over the city, she can see black propogating everywhere. It's even worse when she persuades Thor to take her to the Space Needle on a date and the black appears to be growing.
Some investigation shows that the blackness is a mist hanging over the city's graveyards, hanging over the graves. And if it touches the grave, the dead body inside awakens, but Holy Water can prevent the body inside from coming back... as long as it permeates the grave before the sun goes down. Joanne gets her partner to persuade a group of priests to bless the water in the sprinkler systems in each graveyard and set them off, but she's interrupted by an old friend, Suzanne Quinley, who tells her that she's been having visions about Joanne, in which Joanne dies.
When the dead come to life, Joanne and Suzanne must fight them off, which leads to the return of Herne and the Wild Hunt, and a trip to the other world, which is drained of magic and possibly dying because of the events in "Coyote Dreams" (the third book in the series). Can Joanne free her soul of its magical rider, save the otherworld and then save her own from the plague of the risen dead, and find who is behind the theft of the cauldron and why, all without dying like Suzanne forsaw? If she can't, she may have a lot more unpleasantness to deal with!
I really enjoyed the Walker Papers, the first three volumes (Urban Shaman, Thunderbird Falls, Coyote Dreams) and now this one. Joanne has really grown as a character. In fact, she's grown so used to her shamanic powers that she's actually trying to have real life again, complete with a boyfriend, Thor. But as much as she protests, readers can tell that she has more than a sneaking attraction to none other than her boss, Captain Morrison- and as she's already comfortable with using him to sound her spirit drum, I can fully see them ending up together in some way in the future- because like it or not, he's already in a fairly intimate position with her, given that she's not even comfortable with boyfriend Thor using the same drum...
This book, given the title, seems like it would be mostly about fighting the zombie horde. Yeah, they appear a couple of times, but the focus of the book isn't on the dead, it's on the living, and on the theft of the cauldron, and the magical chaos it is causing. Joanne has two solid suspects soon after the theft, but she has to figure out which one of them actually did it- the director of the museum, or the anthropologist who knows so much about it, and to figure out why they wanted it- obviously, it's not just aquisitiveness. Do they want to sell it on the black magic black market, or is there another reason to want something so obviously used for evil?
In a way, Joanne's quest for normality ends. She and Thor break up over the course of the book, and the supernatural intervenes in her life, bringing her back to the otherworld inhabited by Herne and the Wild Hunt, proving she still has connections to that world. And, of course, her mentor, Coyote, is still missing, and Joanne feels his lack in her spirit life, but she still goes on.
This was an excellent book, and it still is an excellent series. I loved reading the story, which was gripping, and yet managed to raise my sympathy for the villain in a good way. Make no mistake, he needed to go down. He was lied to and mislead, yes, and he was in emotional pain, but he made the wrong choice and killed people, stole and caused chaos because of a single-minded desire. This was a marvelous adventure, and i loved it. Highly recommended.