Saturday, March 26, 2011

DEAD(ish) (novelette) by Naomi Kramer

Synopsis:

Linda is dead, but she's not gone. Still able to interact with the physical world, she torments Mike, who was her boyfriend when she was alive. Linda is obsessed with finding out where her body is and, although Mike knows exactly where it is, he's not telling, despite the abuse heaped upon him.

Linda hires a private investigator named Trent to help her find her body. There's a lot Trent doesn't know, though, and it's not long before he learns that all that missing information is really important. The location of Linda's body turns out to be tied to the truth about how she really died.

Commentary:

Remember the post I wrote about getting to try out the Nook? One of the things I did was download a free e-book off of the Barnes & Noble website, and this was that free e-book. Well, although I call it an e-book, I think it might be more accurate to call it a novella, or maybe even a short story. The whole thing isn't even 100 pages on the Nook (I'm not counting the excerpt at the end), and that's with the font size set to Large. However, until someone tells me otherwise, I'm going to call it a book and use "books" as one of this post's labels. [On Amazon.com, DEAD(ish) is referred to as a novelette.] If I start reviewing more short works like this, I may see about coming up with a new label.

I downloaded this because the cute, visually appealing cover art led me to believe it would be a funny book in the same vein as Christopher Moore's A Dirty Job, or possibly even MaryJanice Davidson's Undead and Unwed or Neil Gaiman's Anansi Boys. Yeah, I read a lot more into that cover image than I should have. It really is a nice-looking cover, though.

I'll get this next part out of the way quickly: If you're easily offended by swear words, don't even touch this. I think there are maybe 1-4 per page. Also, if the idea of gay sex, voyeurs, or a heterosexual couple trying to form a foursome with a gay couple offends you, don't touch this. I don't remember the book containing graphic descriptions of anything, though - in this area and in others, this book is more "tell" than "show."

Especially in the beginning, that was my primary problem - readers are told more than they're shown. The book starts off in the first person, from Mike's perspective, and it's quickly clear that, as awful as Linda's treatment of him is, he deserves it. Mike is not a pleasant person, and Kramer communicated that well.

What she didn't communicate quite so well was context. From the way characters spoke, I guessed the story was maybe set in England (Kramer is Australian, so Australia is more likely). There was very little sense of place - I could tell you what all the people were like (for the most part, horrible excuses for human beings), but I couldn't tell you a thing about Mike's place other than that apparently it gave him and Linda a good view of their gay neighbors having sex.

Another problem I had with the book was that the characters had a tendency to talk (or think) about talking to other characters, but  they often weren't shown talking to the characters. There was so much of that in the beginning of the book that it started to feel a little claustrophobic. Then again, if Kramer hadn't done that, the entire story would have unraveled well before the 100-page point - the whole thing depended upon characters not revealing important facts, which wouldn't have been as easy to arrange if Kramer had stepped outside of their heads enough to show them actually talking to each other.

I also had suspension of disbelief problems. Even if I accepted that Trent had maybe dealt with ghosts before and therefore wouldn't see anything wrong with working for one, I found it hard to believe that he just said, "Ok, I'll find your body for you," without even trying to get context. He found out from Mike how Linda died, but he never bothered to ask Linda - you'd think Linda would be the first person he'd ask, and you'd think it'd be considered an important initial question. Later, when Trent talks to the gay neighbors and finds out they initially thought he was a hit man, you'd think that would have set alarm bells off in his head. If I had been him, I certainly would've wondered why they thought Mike might send a hit man after them. Trent does come to some conclusions at that point, but he would've had a much easier time if he had just talked to Linda when she first hired him. Linda didn't know everything about her death, but she knew enough to have cleared up quite a bit of confusion.

The final revelations about what happened to Linda's body were certainly a shock, at least to me. Mike's a bastard, but I hadn't expected quite that level of awfulness from him, and I'd argue that the gay neighbors are almost as bad. They didn't know what they'd done until Mike told them, but you'd think they could have shown some remorse and horror at their part in the whole thing. Any remorseful reactions they did manage to dredge up when they finally reported the whole thing to the police, well after they should have, just came across as fake.

Overall, I didn't enjoy this book. Its primary saving grace was that it was short, and its formatting was nice and easy on the eyes. I skimmed the excerpt for the next book in the series - it has Linda in it, which only increases my desire not to read it. Kramer's got another book out called Maisy May, but the description doesn't appeal to me enough to give her another shot.

I think Kramer might have intended Linda to be a character readers could feel sympathy for - Linda was one of those people who justifies her awful boyfriend's behavior by saying she's so in love with him, so she can't always see how awful Mike really is. While I agreed that Mike was awful, I didn't like Linda much either. You could say that, for me, Mike was the sludge on top of sludge, while Linda was an annoying buzzing fly.

If you actually liked DEAD(ish) it's possible you might like the things I listed below. However, it was hard for me to come up with true read-alikes/watch-alikes for DEAD(ish), so this list below is probably better for people who, like me, expected more from the story than they got.

Read-alikes and Watch-alikes:
  • Haunted (book) by Kelley Armstrong - While reading DEAD(ish), I kept thinking of Armstrong's Eve, a much more appealing ghost than Linda. I think this is the first (only?) book featuring Eve as a main character. Eve is a half-demon, a black witch, and a devoted mother - one of the things that bothers her about being dead is that her daughter will now have to grow up without her. In this book, the fifth in the Women of the Otherworld series, Eve is sent to retrieve a demi-demon who has escaped from hell. This book is a darker than Kramer's, and it contains scenes that are not for those with weak stomachs.
  • Dead Like Me (live action TV series) - This funny, weird, and often touching series only lasted two seasons. After being killed by a flaming toilet seat that fell from the Mir Space Station, George ends up becoming a Reaper, someone who is supposed to collect the souls of others as they die.
  • A Dirty Job (book) by Christopher Moore - After his wife dies in childbirth, Charlie is left to raise their newborn daughter on his own. Strange things start happening, Charlie notices the occasional glowing object, and eventually he learns that he is a Death Merchant, someone who must collect the souls of the dead (which reside in the objects they most loved during life) before the forces of darkness can get them. This book strikes a nice balance between humor and seriousness.

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