Onyx, $6.99, ISBN 0-451-41137-4
Unlike her last two books which are generic serial killer suspenses, Anne Frasier’s latest Play Dead has a more unusual premise: people are showing up immobilized but with their minds still alert and working, sort of like zombies minus the craving for brains.
It seems appropriate therefore that the heroine Elise Sandburg has a past steeped in voodoo – while she may or may not be the bastard of a root doctor abandoned at a cemetery as an infant, she knows a spell or two. Her use of a love charm led to a disastrous marriage though so she now doesn’t want anything to do with magic, white or black, no way. The policewoman of Savannah, a small town that seems to be stuck in a Twilight Zone vision of Pleasantville, however, has a case to solve and this case is becoming more personal to her than she’d like. Magic is not involved, surely?
She has a partner: a disgraced ex-FBI agent David Gould. Both are not happy at being ordered to work with each other. When he’s not gulping in self-pity like a goldfish in its bowl, he is acting as if the entire world is a pimple on his bottom. But Ms Frasier as always creates two characters that are, while too miserable at times, very vivid and sympathetic even when they are acting their lowest. The romantic undercurrent is very subtle, more subtle than that in the previous books by the author, in a very early-season Mulder-and-Scully way. I like this kind of undercurrents and I actually wish more romantic suspense novels out there would incorporate this kind of tension instead of the usual “let’s slap in a sex scene and call it love” rushed affair.
But Play Dead soon floats adrift in the middle and the pace only recovers in the last few chapters. Ms Frasier pads the story with subplots involving characters but nowhere in this story am I given any reason why I should care about these characters. I want to know more about David and Elise as well as the case they are solving and all the clutter only makes the story feels unfocused. The premise is unique and creepy, the atmosphere is excellent, the main characters are beautiful poster children of Prozac Kingdom, but with the uneven pacing and padded feel of the bulk of this story, this one lies comatose for way too long.