by Jo Perry
Series: Charlie & Rose Investigate, #1Kindle, 282 pg.
Fahrenheit Press, 2016
Read: March 12 – 14, 2016
In its young life, Fahrenheit Press has put out some great looking titles, not your typical mystery fare. I’ve only read 2 (bought 1 other), so far — but they’ve shared the off-kilter flavor that the Press’ twitter feed/publicity displays (and descriptions for the other books indicate). I don’t typically talk about publishers when I’m talking about books, but there’s something about Fahrenheit’s project — and the books they put out — that draws your attention. Dead is Better is typical of FP — a mix of darkness and light, unlikely protagonists, unlikely crime-solvers, and atypical crimes (at least as far as crime fiction goes).
Charles Stone is our protagonist, but he’s not really the character that will grab your imagination. That’d be Rose — but we’ll get to her in a moment. Charles is dead — very dead, shot several times. His ghost carries the wounds, as well as the clothing, even the hospital ID bracelet, from the time he died. He can’t remember the shooting however, and can’t think of a reason why he’d be shot. He’s (to his reckoning) no one important, and it doesn’t seem anyone around him even cares enough to kill him/arrange for his killing. After a little bit, he starts to come up with a possible motive or two. But his murder doesn’t seem to be the thing he’s most curious about. What he’d really like to know is, why does he have a constant companion?
Rose is a dog. Well, technically, she was a dog, now she’s the ghost of one. We don’t know why she’s alongside Charles, but she’s been with him the entire time he’s been a ghost. It seems that she had a really unpleasant life; and at last, in Charles, has someone caring for her. Rose is not going to challenge Crais’ Maggie, Quinn’s Chet, or Hearne’s Oberon anytime soon as the greatest dog in fiction — which is not a dig. Rose is great, she’s just not legendary. Rose does have one thing going for her that the other’s don’t — she’s pretty realistic (not that the others don’t have their moments — but even Maggie gets Point-of-View chapters), she can only communicate through suggestion — and even then, the people around her have to guess. Sometimes, they guess wrong.
The two begin investigating Charles’ murder — with the occasional glance at his family and former life. But before long, Charles becomes convinced he’s not around to look into his death, but something else. Rose, somehow, seems to know more about what’s going on than Charles, but he’s the one who needs to do the work. The pair do uncover some answers — and others uncover some others (I’m not convinced that all the answers the readers/Charles are given about anything beyond the main crime are correct, but . . . ).
More importantly, Charles finds a measure of redemption — sure, it might be too late, but nevertheless, there is some. You get the idea that if he maybe had a dog while living, he might’ve turned out to be a better person. Sure, that describes most of humanity to me, so I responded to that, but I think Perry sells it well enough that just about anyone would.
I’ve often thought of trying to do an Urban Fantasy for NaNoWriMo featuring a ghost, but I’ve never figured how to bridge the communication gap between the living and the dead without it feeling like a cheat. I liked Perry’s solution to this (I worry about the sequel repeating it — but that’s not my problem, is it?). I’m not convinced that the police could’ve/would’ve used the information that Charles got to them, but in the moment — you don’t care, you’re just glad that someone did something.
This is a fast and lean read — Perry doesn’t waste a word (actually leaves a couple of them out, but nothing too distracting). You’ll grow to like Charles, you’ll want to adopt Rose, and you’ll want to finds out what happens to them next. Thankfully, their story will continue in Dead is Best.