Anne Frasier,
Play Dead
(Onyx, 2004)

Come to Savannah, Ga., where police detectives travel the seamier side of the city that's famous for its Southern grace and architecture. The story turns away from the beauty and falls into the back streets and underground tunnels that hide an uglier side.

Homicide Detective Elise Sandburg is called out to a murder case that turns out not to be murder ... yet. When a body on the autopsy table is found to barely have life in it, Elise and her new partner David Gould are sent to investigate. Elise doesn't need the strange complications of such a case at this point in her life. She already has a daughter who's not fond of spending time with her, an ex-husband who still has feelings for her and a piece of personal history she isn't fond of talking about that includes cemeteries, root doctors, voodoo and spells, as well as a work partner with a strange apathy towards his job.

David has some severe emotional problems, and Elise has little patience with his attitude. When he kicks off his pharmaceutical crutches he is flooded with emotions that threaten to overwhelm him. Investigating a series of killings, searching for a missing and partially decomposed body and unraveling hints of necrophiliac longings are an inhospitable introduction to Georgian culture for this world-weary boy from northern USA.

Too many almost-dead bodies turn up, and the investigation turns to drugs and potions that induce zombie-like effects. James LaRue, a research chemist who knows everything about TTX, the toxin found in puffer fish; Strata Luna, a professional madame and spellcaster who is rumored to have killed her own daughters, and even Elise herself, come to mind as suspects.

At least three chapters are written in the first person and here the reader becomes privy to the kinky and selfish urges of the perpetrator, engaging the reader to crave retribution. The book clips along at a good speed. Chapters are short and characters enter and depart efficiently. Atmosphere is creepy, dark and just as moist and malodorous as the mucky, dank earth and rotting bodies that Frasier describes so vividly. The story could just as easily been set in Louisiana and I had to mentally jerk myself back to Savannah's boulevards several times.

David and Elise are a little off centre, their humor, when they attempt it, a bit soggy. Characters have homogeneous and surface dialogue but the energy from the plot and descriptive narrative enhance a startling read, especially with necrophilia as a topic. The book is not graphic in that sense, but hints and suggestions are enough. You could throw this one in the beach bag or if you're a braver soul looking for a sleepless night take it to bed, alone.

- Rambles
written by Virginia MacIsaac
published 24 October 2004

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