by Anton Strout
Review by Drew Bittner
Ace Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 9780441016914
Date: 24 February 2009 List Price $7.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK
In Deader Still, sequel to Dead To Me, author Anton Strout sends Simon (a rookie in New York City's Department of Extraordinary Affairs) on a high stakes assignment: find out what killed (and drained the blood from) a boatload of lawyers. Vampire? Maybe, but New York has been vampire-free for more than 700 days. (Whew!)
With his partner Connor dealing with his own problems, a budding romance with former evil temp Jane and a recruitment drive underway at a science fiction convention, Simon has more than enough going on. Naturally, that's when his ex Mina (a psychotic goth-chick and professional thief) shows up demanding his help.
Throw in three Gypsy brothers (hailing from the arcane wilds of Illinois), a mysterious shattered crate and a significant challenge to Simon's modus operandi, and you have a truly tangled mess for our hero. Good thing he's also a member of the Fraternal Order of Goodness or... no, it's still a mess.
This book ups the stakes quite a bit. Simon is no longer inexperienced about New York's weird crime scene. Operating out of offices hidden behind the Lovecraft Cafe (a strange theater/coffeeshop in the Village), Simon doesn't get cut as much slack any longer; he has to step up and do the job. Considering the average life of a field officer is not-that-long, he has to master the learning curve fast. Monsters don't give extra credit for being the new guy.
One of his biggest challenges is dealing with jealousy. Now that he's in a relationship with Jane, he is threatened by her workplace situation (she works closely with Thaddeus Wesker, who loathes Simon) and hasn't got the experience to deal with his emotional volatility. Making things worse on that front is Mina, who dredges up all that Simon has tried to put behind him: namely, his criminal past. Mina has picked up info from an unexpected source, however, and Simon has his hands full on that score.
Strout brings a fresh perspective to the urban fantasy scene, offering a character who is flawed (but knows it), has an interesting but non-aggressive power, and works in a place that suffers the limitations, foibles and minor idiocies of any bureaucracy. It has a Men in Black flavor mixed with NYPD Blue's more gritty realism... if you think of the detectives as working the night shift in the Twilight Zone.
Simon continues to grow and develop, as the mysteries around Connor deepen and his relationship with Jane is tested in several unexpected ways. It's a book (and a protagonist) that is going places, and those who enjoy something fresh in urban fantasy will enjoy what they find.