Wet Work: The Unseen, Book One

Image of Wet Work: The Unseen, Book One
Release Date: 
May 23, 2023
Independently published
Reviewed by: 

“Fans of Jim Butcher will love this fast-paced supernatural thriller, filled with just the right balance of horror and heart.”

Emily Gordon is the perfect reluctant hero. A street kid turned killer with real crimes in her past, she has lived the life of a true villain. Her past crimes are what drive her to do good in a constant bid to balance scales that have been heavily weighted on the wrong side. She has escaped her old life and started fresh in Omaha, founding a shelter to help street kids not repeat her mistakes. She wants to live a quiet life, far away from her old sins, but when evil shows up in Omaha and threatens her shelter kids, Emily is the only one with the knowledge and the skills to fight it.

This story could easily have been told in the real world, with the part of evil antagonists played by mob bosses and hired killers of the purely human variety. In Wet Work, however, Emily faces something even more terrifying and powerful. In her past life, she worked for the Unseen: a collection of demons, werewolves, vampires, and the like who work in the shadows, gathering wealth and power through organized crime without letting their existence become known to most of humanity. The Unseen have supernatural powers, something Emily is sadly lacking, which makes her quest to keep them out of Omaha and away from her kids all the more difficult.

Flashbacks to Emily's old life reveal a world of true horror, where humans like Emily lure unsuspecting people to be prey to the Unseen, and where massacres are all too common in the constant competition for power. The reader sees that Emily’s sense of guilt is well-earned: she was the willing tool of monsters, even if her own desperate childhood showed her few alternatives.

That balance of present good and past evil in Emily’s character is a big part of what makes this novel work. In the present, Emily is a genuinely likable person whose love for the teenagers under her care drives most of what she does. She is driven by guilt for her past and doesn’t feel like she deserves anything good for herself, but she never wallows in self-pity. She allows her guilt to drive her to action, selflessly risking her life for others and not letting the apparent impossibility of resisting the all-powerful Unseen stop her from trying.

Emily makes a lot of mistakes. She identifies the wrong person as a murderer, falls prey to several different villains’ tricks, trusts a person who turns out to be untrustworthy, and withholds important information from the police. She never gives up because of these missteps, however, but keeps on pressing, unwilling to stop until she is dead or her shelter kids are safe.

The only misstep in this enjoyable novel is the unfortunate title, Wet Work, which suggests splatter horror out of keeping with the novel’s heroic and ultimately uplifting content. On several occasions in the novel, Emily muses that “it always comes down to wet work” in reference to the killing she did in service to the Unseen, that she now has to do again to fight against them. Unfortunately, the title leads the reader to expect a bloody book full of grisly assassination. There is certainly plenty of blood; however, the core of the novel is not slasher film fare, but a classic tale of a redeemed hero reluctantly using skills she thought never to use again in order to protect the innocent from the powerful.

Fans of Jim Butcher will love this fast-paced supernatural thriller, filled with just the right balance of horror and heart. Rotundo’s novel hits the sweet spot for a book like this: just enough horror to drive the plot and heighten the stakes, but with a relentless protagonist.