I finally got around to reading Sean Stewart's 'Firecracker' (known as 'Perfect Circle' in the States) and found myself more than pleasantly surprised to find it entirely matched the hype it got on publication a couple of years ago. On the surface, it's about a guy called Bill 'Dead' Kennedy, so-called because of his love for punk and his ability to see and interact with dead people. There's some really nice touches in here, such as the ghost roads that materialise out of thin air and he's never quite had the nerve to go all the way down; or the fact he doesn't drive because he can't tell if the person he just had to swerve around in the middle of the road is really there, or dead and invisible to the rest of mankind.

Here's a snippet from an old review on SFSite.com by Donna McMahon:

Perfect Circle is about lots of things. It's about gender roles and class in a vividly drawn modern Texas. It's about ownership -- of people, money and guns -- and about pride, guilt and rage. It's a searing snapshot of "normal" life in a working class suburb of America where the dead people seem a lot more functional than the living ones.

It's also a good story, with a funny, likeable protagonist who we find ourselves rooting for despite his blatant flaws. Finally, pop culture mavens will get a kick out of the contemporary music references (all of which were lost on me, but what the heck).

This is a real rarity -- an intelligent, sensitive and entertaining novel about what it means to be male. I think it will speak most strongly to men, but it should appeal to many readers, mainstream as well as genre.

What Donna nails is that the book stretches out far beyond the default genre considerations, mainly thanks to the depth and quality of Stewart's characterisation. If you've got a bunch of book tokens by New Year, you could really do a lot worse than get your hands on this book.

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