DEAD, UNDEAD, OR SOMEWHERE IN BETWEEN
Rhiannon Murphy is a necromancer, disturbed on a daily basis by ghosts still bearing the gruesome markings of their violent deaths when they occasionally pop into her line of vision as she goes about her daily routine. Aside from her unique ability, her life is pretty simple. Her job as a bartender isn't much, but she's in control of it and every other aspect of her existence. She'll never let someone else be in control again.
Unfortunately, her life doesn't seem to want to remain simple, and she is doggedly hounded at work by Disco, a vampire who seeks her assistance. Several of his brethren have gone missing in the span of a few weeks and it seems Rhiannon's necromancy is even more rare than she imagined: she not only sees the dead, but the twice-dead as well, able to contact vampires that have died the permanent death.
Though reluctant to clutter her life with complicated entanglements, she agrees to help Disco figure out what's happened to members of his vampire family, teaming up with a fellow necromancer to combine their gifts and find an undead murderer. As if hunting down a serial killer isn't enough of a distraction, Rhiannon also finds herself uncomfortably attracted to Disco, his subtle charm wreaking havoc on her defenses and chipping away at the death grip she maintains on her sense of control. Control is vital to Rhiannon, and as much as she fears that which is destroying the vampires, she finds Disco may perhaps be both a bigger threat than the killer and also a chance at a happiness that has evaded her her entire life.
Dead, Undead, or Somewhere in Between is a delicious surprise full of multifaceted characters who refuse to be anything less than their true selves, and a story pulsing with action but not so complex as to be difficult to follow. Reading this story is like attending opening night at a performance that has garnered positive reviews, but yet we don't entirely know what to expect until the curtain rises, or in this case the first page is turned, and we find ourselves pleasantly shocked and absolutely engrossed by the richness of the experience. While the vampirism and necromancy are nothing groundbreaking, we are granted access to characters who are damaged but mending admirably, with histories that would render lesser people useless, their minds shattered and broken by an unfathomable cruelty. We are instantly involved and irrevocably bound to the protagonists from the start, a relationship forming in the blink of an eye and deepening with every turn of the page.
Rhiannon is blunt, crude, and has the mouth of the most well-versed of sailors, and though her language and demeanor might be off-putting to those around her (as intended at times), we have little choice but to find her refreshing, coming to appreciate her no-nonsense attitude and tough-girl exterior. Her foul language and thick skin protect her from those who might try to breach her defenses and exert any sort of control over her, whether physical or emotional. She has a brutal past, one all the more disturbing due to her refusal to speak or think of it, allowing our own minds to fill in the gaps with images more, or perhaps less, horrifying than her truth. Though she's strong, she's not so overwhelming in her brashness as to push us away as easily as she does those around her. Little glimpses of vulnerability peek through every now and again, giving us enough of a connection to feel protective of her as we both admire her fortitude and long for one or two of her walls to crumble so Disco may take up permanent residence behind her carefully constructed facade.
Disco, for all the flamboyance of his moniker, is blissfully unassuming; a vampire that doesn't throw off testosterone in blanketing waves or seek to assert his alpha male dominance through presumption or possession, instead displaying an understated nature that is certainly no less masculine for it's reserved quality. He's not the type to be cool and calculating, merely biding his time until the object of his affection succumbs to his roguish charms, approaching Rhiannon instead with patience and control, and treating her with a reverence more effective in winning both her heart and ours than a persistent, undaunted pursuit could ever be. He doesn't want mere capitulation, he wants a trust he's earned, and he's content to maintain a comfortable distance until she's ready to give it. Their chemistry is undeniable, the quiet build up of it resulting in a more cataclysmic romantic pairing, one that burns bright enough to singe away the remnants of a nightmarish past, and hot enough to fuse together open wounds with an unmatched tenderness and mutual affection.
The story moves forward at a perfect pace, slow in parts that bear explanation and lightening-quick when the pursuit of our villain becomes vitally important. We are left with an ending that forces us to adopt a few choice words from Rhiannon's extensive vocabulary as a piece of Disco's own history makes an inopportune appearance, and I cannot wait for the next installment to see how this last-minute development will play out.