Among the Living is 29,000 words long, which comes out to approximately 93 pages on my Nook.
Victor Bayne can see and hear dead people. The only way he stands a chance of shutting them out is with drugs, and, when this novella begins, Vic is well into an Auracel daze, trying to remember how many pills he's taken, and trying not to be too obvious about how many pills he's taken.
Vic is the psychic half of a PsyCop team, and he's at his long-time partner's retirement party, so he doesn't expect to have to go back to work soon. Unfortunately for him, before the party's even over he's assigned a new partner, Lisa Gutierrez, and sent off to talk to any ghosts he can find at the scene of a gruesome murder. The murder victim was almost certainly gay, adding to Vic's discomfort - besides the amount of Auracel he takes, Vic's other secret is that he's gay, and he's paranoid about the possibility of doing or saying something that will give himself away. Vic's discomfort only worsens when he realizes that, for the first time, he's unable to see the spirit of a murder victim.
After Gutierrez is taken off the case, Vic is assigned to work with another Psy Cop team, Detective Jacob Marks (a Stiff - the non-psychic half of a PsyCop team) and Carolyn Brinkman (a psychic who can tell when people are lying). More gay men turn up gruesomely murdered and displayed, and Vic continues to be unable to contact their ghosts - who or what, he wonders, could have killed them so completely? On a personal note, Vic has the hots for Detective Marks, and, to Vic's shock, the feeling appears to be mutual.
I was iffy about this novella at first. I got it because I had heard lots of good things about Jordan Castillo Price's writing, and because the review of this novella on Dear Author intrigued me. However, Vic did not immediately endear himself to me. I wasn't a fan of his clearly habitual overuse of Auracel, and his quickie sexual encounter with Detective Marks in the bathroom at his partner's retirement party had me wincing.
I'm not quite sure when it happened, but Vic grew on me, and now I really, really want the rest of this series. I absolutely loved Vic's “voice” (the novella is from his perspective). He was so paranoid and frazzled that I had to laugh, at times. The way he went through suits reminded me a little of Stephanie Plum's habit of going through cars. I began to understand his habit of taking a little too much Auracel after reading about a few of his spirit encounters. It's not something Price beats readers over the head with, but it's clear that Vic regularly sees lots of things that would make the average person wonder about his sanity, and much of what he sees is less than pleasant. At one point, he strains hard enough to see the ghost of a dead goldfish, and there's a part where he encounters the ghost of a baby who was left to die in a stairwell in his apartment building.
Besides Vic, I also liked Vic's new partner, Lisa Gutierrez, and I hope she shows up in future books and novellas in this series. I think the character I liked the least was Detective Jacob Marks. I think Price intended for readers to find him sexy, but, from his first appearance, I hoped that he and Vic weren't going to end up as a couple. Regardless of the last lines of the novella and what Gutierrez told Vic, something about Marks made me think he was more interested in Vic for his paranormal abilities than anything else. I couldn't bring myself to trust him, and I even thought he'd turn out to be the murderer. I still kind of expect him to be revealed as a bad guy in a future book/novella, but, if not, it'll be interesting to see if Price can eventually make me like him.
I loved the way Price handled the psychic abilities. At the moment, it looks like there is probably a limited (but large?) number of psychic ability types, with various levels within those types. Even though Vic is a fairly high level psychic medium, that doesn't make him all-powerful, not even just within his work life – as he says at one point, the spirits of murdered people can lie or be confused, just like the living. He can get information that normal people can't, but that doesn't mean the information is necessarily of any use. I liked that every one of the psychic abilities that cropped up in this novella had limitations and created weaknesses in the psychics. For example, Vic had to put a huge amount of effort into finding an apartment he could live in without regular interruptions from ghosts, and Carolyn can't lie.
Usually, even with good novellas, I find myself thinking “Well, that was nice, but if it had been longer this or that could have been expanded more, and it really felt like it was leading into a larger work.” That wasn't the case with Among the Living, which felt just as long as it needed to be, didn't seem like an excerpt from a longer work, and still managed to make me want to read more. I'm glad I've already purchased Criss Cross, the next work in the series (although there's a freebie, Thaw, that I'll have to download and read, too). If I end up liking that as much as I liked Among the Living, I'll probably bite the bullet and buy the rest of the series, with or without a sale.
When I first purchased this novella, there were no spaces between paragraphs, and paragraphs weren't indented, which would have made for some painful reading. I reported the issue to AllRomance, and they had a fixed copy available for re-download within a day. Thank you, AllRomance and JCP Books!
- No Humans Involved (book) by Kelley Armstrong - If you'd like another mystery starring a character who can communicate with the dead and featuring a bit of romance, you might want to try this, although be aware that it's actually the 7th book in the series. The first book, Bitten, stars a werewolf. Armstrong also has a spin-off YA series starring a teenager who gets sent to a home for troubled teens after her ability to see dead people suddenly manifests. The first book in that series is The Summoning. I have written about it.
- Guilty Pleasures (book) by Laurell K. Hamilton - Okay, so her more recent books feature less story and more sex. However, when it first began, the series focused on interesting mysteries with supernatural elements and characters, with a little bit of romance to spice things up.
- Fatal Shadows (book) by Josh Lanyon - Something about Jordan Castillo Price's writing style reminds me of Josh Lanyon, another fantastic author. Those who'd like another mystery featuring m/m romance might want to try this, or another one of Lanyon's works. Fatal Shadows is the first book in one of Lanyon's best-known series (as an added bonus, the second book is included if you buy the e-book version). From what I've read so far (only the first book, but I'm working on it), this is a purely contemporary series, with no paranormal elements.
- Darkly Dreaming Dexter (book) by Jeff Lindsay - Okay, so there's no romance in this series (Dexter's relationship with his girlfriend is too calculated for me to attach the word "romance" to any of his interactions with her), but those who'd like another mystery told from the perspective of a funny, kind of likable (really!) guy with big secrets might want to try this.