Dead is Good by Jo Perry

Dead is GoodDead is Good

by Jo Perry
Series: Charlie & Rose Investigate, #3

Kindle Edition, 282 pg.
Fahrenheit Press, 2017

Read: August 3, 2017

Oh, and after all this time I learned something else about being dead.

Death is failure.

Death is loss.

Everything—who you are, what you know—goes.

Whoever you thought you were, you weren’t and you’re not.

When he was alive, Charlie Stone was married multiple times to pretty horrible women (if we’re to believe him — and we might as well, he seems pretty upfront and honest about this kind of thing), not that he was any catch, either. But he really only loved one person, Grace Morgan. Grace broke things off with Charlie and moved on with her life, but apparently after hearing about his murder, she was moved to change her approach to art — deciding to challenge the audience, forcing them to realize how close to death they are.

Yeah, it sounds pretty silly and pretentious to me, but hey…that’s not the important part of the story. Maybe if we got more examples of her art, I’d care more and maybe even understand. What is important about Grace, for our purposes, is that her life is in danger, it’s because of this danger that Charlie and Rose have been brought from their afterlife-limbo back to Earth.

The book opens with one of the more blatant suicide-by-cop scenes you’ve ever read, which is intended to serve as protection for Grace. It doesn’t work out, or the book would be really short. Powerless to do anything but watch and hope things turn out okay, Charlie and Rose travel around L.A. discovering for themselves what it was that endangered Grace in the first place — which brings them into a world of drugs, sweatshop workers, deceptive piñatas, and smuggled birds.

This is a very tangled story, it takes Charlie quite a while to put the pieces together — Rose has her own priorities in this mess and spends some time away from Charlie, unwilling to turn her focus on his behalf. The way that this criminal enterprise is eventually revealed to work not only seems like something that really exists, but is revealed in a way that is narratively satisfying.

Charlie will tell his readers over and over that there’s no character growth in death — that’s nonsense. Post-mortem Charlie is a much more emotionally mature and self-sacrificing kind of guy than pre-mortem Charlie was. In this book we see him come to — or at least acknowledge — a greater and deeper understanding of what love is, and what he allowed his previous relationship to become. It may not do him any good in the afterlife, but Charlie is better for it, and in someway we can hope that Grace is better off having gone through all this, so that whatever life has in store for her can be tackled face-on.

I love these characters — even while we readers don’t fully understand their circumstances, how they know where to go, what brings them to this world at certain times. Even while they don’t have much better of an idea than we do (at least Charlie doesn’t). I love how while they can’t interact with their environment, the people they see and events they watch unfold, they are driven to find answers, driven to care about what’s happening. There’s something about that compulsion — and success they have in figuring things out — that matters more than when Bosch or Spenser or Chin and Smith put all the pieces together to thwart someone.

This wasn’t as amusing as previous installments, but it was just as satisfying — maybe more so. For a good mystery with oddly compelling characters, once again, look no further than Jo Perry.

The L.A. County Department of Medical Examiner-Coroner has a gift shop?? Why isn’t anyone investigating this? It may be real, it may be popular and legal. But surely that’s a crime against tact, right?

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4 Stars

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Dead is Best by Jo Perry

Dead is BestDead is Best

by Jo Perry
Series: Charlie & Rose Investigate, #2

Kindle Edition, 296 pg.
Fahrenheit Press, 2016

Read: May 2, 2016

You’d think that having given up the ghost I’d be beyond the grasp of my ex-stepdaughter, the parasite.

Sure, Charlie’s less-than-charitable assessment, doesn’t make it sound like death has mellowed him at all — or that we really want to spend a novel looking into the trials and tribulations of his ex-stepdaughter, Cali. (a quick aside: I loved Charlie’s rant about the pretentious names given to Cali and her peers, “Truth, Canyon, Druid, Turquoise, Vanilla and Road. Don’t tell me those are names–– they’re brands. “) But last time we learned that 1. Charlie has actually mellowed a bit, we just need more time to see it; 2. He’s generally right about his family; and it won’t take long before the reader will actually care about Cali. As difficult as she’ll make it.

Textbooks will tell you that Cali is a “troubled teen.” Which is a pretty vague, and a likely outdated, term. She’s a drinker, a drug user, defiant daughter (although once you meet her mother and current stepfather, you kind of get that) in trouble with the law. But it doesn’t take long once Charlie and Rose start to follow her for her to end up in more trouble than she — or anyone — deserves.

Once again, there’s very little that Charlie and Rose can do other than watch what’s happening and put two and two together in the almost vain hope that Charlie can do something about it. Rest assured, they do, and it doesn’t involve another near death experience (I was a little afraid they’d just be hanging around Surgical Centers waiting for the next opportunity to talk to another ghost). It’s hard to believe that a mystery series where no one knows that the main characters did anything works. But this does.

What can I say about Rose? She’s at once one of the most realistic dog characters I can remember reading lately (she doesn’t talk, narrate, have a point of view chapter, or communicate telepathically), and yet, as a ghost, is the hardest to believe. She’s such a good influence on Charlie, I’m glad whatever or Whoever brought them together after their deaths.

Charlie said something in the last book about death not being about learning anything or insight or growth, that he stays the same. I don’t believe it, he’s not the same guy. But it’s probably a good sign that he doesn’t realize it.

Something I should’ve mentioned when I talked about the previous novel, these chapter epigraphs are great. They represent a truly impressive collection of quotations about death, some funny, some thoughtful, just about all of them keepers. The book is worth the effort just to read these (but you should really focus on the rest of the book).

Perry’s freakishly short chapters make you think Robert Parker was prone to be long-winded and rambling, but they work. You could probably make the case that they’re a commentary on the transient nature of human life or something (if you wanted to, and I don’t). They keep things moving, really keep anything from dragging, and help you get how Charlie and Rose can jump from place to place with ease.

Funny, poignant, all-around good story-telling. Plus there’s a dog. You really can’t ask for more than that. It’s easy to see why people as diverse as Cat Warren and Eric Idle commend these books. I strongly recommend this one (and the predecessor).

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4 Stars

Dead is Better by Jo Perry

Dead is BetterDead is Better

by Jo Perry
Series: Charlie & Rose Investigate, #1

Kindle, 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.

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4 Stars