Just this morning I finished a book that has paved new ground in literary history. The book is Personal Effects: Dark Arts by J.C. Hutchins and Jordan Weisman. I’ve been a fan of J.C.’s work for some time as he successfully podcast a wonderful action/adventure/thriller trilogy called 7th Son, which he completed in 2007.

Personal Effects is the first “dead-tree edition” of one of J.C.’s works. Based on a concept by Jordan Weisman, it is an excellent novel. If supernatural thrillers are your thing, then this book is for you.

What really sets this apart is the experience away from the page. Yep, there’s an experience to be had here separate from the book. The book has a built-in envelope that contains several items, or personal effects. These include authentic looking plastic ID and credit cards, birth certificates, death certificates, photos, and more. (If you want to see the items, J.C. has several “unboxing” videos on his site.) Many of these items are directly referenced in the text, but they can also contain clues that you can use elsewhere.

Elsewhere? Phone numbers are sprinkled throughout the book and personal effects, including the cell phone number for the main character right on the cover. These are real phone numbers, with recordings from the characters. During the course the book pin numbers are referenced, and you can use these to listen to voice mail messages that add more depth to the story between the covers.

Likewise, there are websites for you to explore. Some come from the novel itself, others from the personal effects. For example I took an e-mail address from one of the included personal effects and went to the website for that domain, then used information from the novel to hack in and read hidden documents.

I’m not usually much of a puzzle guy, but I really enjoyed searching the websites and voice mails for clues and information kept secret by characters and organizations from the book. In fact, even though I’ve finished the book I’m still planning on doing some more digging because I know I haven’t found everything. There are a few of the included documents that still have a story to tell. Even though I’ve finished the novel, I don’t want the experience to end.

But when all is said and done, it’s a book, right? Even on its own it is a great read. I tend to use the term “critical mass” to describe when a book reaches the point where I can’t put it down until I finish it. Not every book achieves this level of interest, but Personal Effects did. In fact the only reason I didn’t finish it before bed last night was because I was literally so tired I was unable to keep my eyes open. But the first thing I did this morning was to finish the book.

If you want to check out J.C.’s writing without spending a dime, he is currently podcasting Personal Effects: Sword of Blood, a novella that takes place days before the events in the novel. Same characters, same settings, but a story totally unrelated to the main events in Dark Art.

So as you can tell I heartily recommend Personal Effects: Dark Art, and I encourage you to buy a copy. You’ll be helping out a new novelist, and get yourself a great read. In addition to everything I mentioned above, it is a beautiful package, with interesting artwork throughout the book. With all the extras included, the $24.95 list price is quite a deal.

And remember the name J.C. Hutchins. The first book in the 7th Son trilogy will be published in the fall of 2009. You’ll want to grab a copy of that, too.

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