T. K. Thorne’s second book, “Last Chance for Justice: How Relentless Investigators Uncovered New Evidence Convicting the Birmingham Church Bombers,” in 2013, made perfect sense.
Thorne after all had retired after 22 years of service as the first female captain ever in the Birmingham Police Department.
Crime and punishment was her natural subject.
Her next two novels, however, went in wildly different directions. “Noah’s Wife,” 2009, is set in Turkey in 5500 B.C. at the time of the Flood, and has, as protagonist, Na’amah, Noah’s previously un-named wife.
“Angels at the Gate,” 2015, is set in 1748-49 B.C. in ancient Israel, in the Twin Cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, and climaxes with the catastrophe suffered by Lot’s wife.
This novel, “House of Rose: A Magic City Story,” is set in Birmingham, Alabama, in the present. In a sense, Thorne is returning to her most likely subject. The heroine, Rose Brighton, is a 22-year-old police officer recently graduated summa cum laude from the University of Alabama with a major in psychology and a minor in art. (Thorne has a master’s in social work.) Rose went through police training at the academy and lives alone in a nice little house in Southside, where much of the action takes place.
Rose is a quiet person, somewhat of a loner, with only one potential friend, Becca, and Becca has to work at it.
But, quite early in this novel, things get odd. There are many surprises a reviewer must not reveal but one must say something! Here are a few of the early bits.
On patrol with her mentor/partner Paul, Rose has a split-second glimpse of the future. The images vibrate, ripple silently and are “smudgy” and in slow motion. Rose saves Paul’s’ life by shooting a thug who is about to shoot him.
This vision is disconcerting and may be explained by a variant of string theory, jumping to a parallel dimension moving at a slightly different rate of time, perhaps.
Quite soon afterward, though, Rose learns she is a witch, of the House of Rose, which takes its power from the “living-green,” that is the vegetation of the earth AND the coal, oil, etc., into which the vegetation of millennia ago turned itself. Birmingham is a perfect place for this with huge coal deposits everywhere underground.
Rose is flabbergasted. At first reluctant to believe, she becomes convinced and slowly discovers the extent of her powers, and how to augment them.
She learns that there are other powerful Houses and the members of the House of Iron want her dead.
Birmingham, with its huge deposits of iron ore, provides abundant energy for that tribe also.
Rose begins sleuthing to learn more about her heritage, how her parents died, and who is trying to kill her and why. The action moves from the fountain at Five Points to Jim Reed’s bookstore to The Club, to mansions on Red Mountain and tunnels under it.
Although “House of Rose” is speculative fiction, a kind of fantasy, T.K. Thorne is so knowledgeable about Birmingham and law enforcement that it is also, truly, a police procedural and a thriller — something for everyone. We see Rose following her training: “Double tap. Always shoot twice. Aim for center mass,” and we learn that DOS means: “Dead On Scene.”
We observe Rose as she goes through mandatory after-incident counseling.
Rose orders “a purse with a hidden inner pouch from a law enforcement specialty magazine.” Her “gun fits inside and is accessible with a pull of Velcro, and … [she] can shoot through the purse if necessary.”
We are taught the distinction between burglary and robbery: “burglary involves breaking and entering of a building, and robbery is a theft by means of a threat, usually a weapon.”
Rose is physically attacked, fights, is injured and survives desperate encounters that would have challenged James Bond. She has superpowers, true, but so do many of THEM and she doesn’t know who THEY are.
“House of Rose” is the first of a series which should be a hit.
One final note: Rose was never a cat person; nevertheless, first one and then more cats come to live in her house. They don’t do or say anything too suspicious, but I have my eye on them. They are surely going to reveal unnatural gifts in the sequel. The witch’s cats often do.
Don Noble is host of the Alabama Public Television literary interview show “Bookmark with Don Noble.” His most recent book is Belles’ Letters 2, a collection of short fiction by Alabama women.