Greedy ghost hunters and six-legged dust bunnies

Has this been a great year for supermarket paperbacks or what?

Hardly a month passed during 2000 that a remarkable literary achievement didn’t find its way to the paperback racks of the nation’s supermarkets. Mystery, mayhem and malevolent microbes have consistently kept paperback aficionados on the edge of their shopping carts all year and the good stuff just keeps on coming.

Take “After Dark” by Jayne Ann Krentz (2000, Berkley Publishing Group, Penguin Putnam Inc., New York, N.Y., $6.99, 332 pages).

If you like otherworldly science fiction deftly mixed in with an old-fashioned murder mystery and a smidgen of romance set against a backdrop of lost civilizations and alien ghost hunters, “After Dark” is your kind of supermarket paperback.

This is the story of Lydia Smith, a university para-archaeologist working on a forgotten world that was colonized by Earthlings who were stranded centuries before when a fickle space curtain closed and made it impossible for them to return home.

The settlers thrived and found themselves heirs to the remnants of a mysterious civilization left behind by an unknown race of beings called Harmonics who constructed elaborate cities of emerald green quartz beneath which they built equally elaborate catacombs for no apparent reason.

(You’re following all of this, right?)

Although researchers and treasure hunters try to probe the underground maze, they’re hampered by energy ghosts and illusion traps left behind by the former inhabitants.

Our archaeologist heroine is able to help facilitate the ongoing exploration because she’s an ephemeral energy para-resonator and can use her abilities to untangle lingering psychic illusion traps.

One fateful weekend, though, she becomes lost in the catacombs and comes out “suffering from extreme para-dissonance, amnesia and general psychic trauma.”

The University of Cadence Para-Archaeology Department drops Lydia like a hot potato and she finds herself living at the seedy Dead City View Apartments with a six-legged, four-eyed dust bunny named Fuzz who resembles a lump of dryer lint and lives on a diet of pretzels.

Shunned by the academic world, Lydia manages to get a job working at a sorry, third-rate museum known as Shrimpton’s House of Ancient Horrors.

That’s when the dead body of an acquaintance turns up at her new workplace, a mysterious businessman hires her to find a “cabinet of curiosities” and some renegade ghost hunters begin bombarding her with Unstable Dissonance Energy Manifestations capable of scrambling her brain.

Lydia, it appears, is on the verge of a major discovery about the ancient Harmonic civilization and there are plenty of people who’d rather she didn’t make that discovery – even though she doesn’t know exactly what it is.

Will she be betrayed by her devilishly handsome client, crushed in a power struggle between rival ghost hunters or swindled by self-serving academic back-stabbers?

The answers are lurking in the labyrinthian catacombs of your favorite supermarket – just watch out for Unstable Dissonance Energy Manifestations near the deli counter…

Originally published December 10, 2000

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