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Working Stiff: A Revivalist Novel by Rachel Caine
Review by Drew Bittner
Roc Paperback  ISBN/ITEM#: 9780451464132
Date: 02 August 2011 List Price $7.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK

Links: Author's Website / Show Official Info /

When Bryn Davis came back from Afghanistan, she thought a career in the funeral business was something she could handle. But when it turns out her new workplace holds a horrifying secret, Bryn finds herself in greater danger than she was in a war zone.

So begins Working Stiff, the first in a new series by Rachel Caine. Bryn is starting over, her second life as far from her first--as a soldier in the US Army--as it might be. Learning the ropes as a brand-new funeral director for Fairview Mortuary, however, she quickly realizes that things are very badly wrong.

For one thing, her aristocratic boss, Lincoln Fairview, holds secret after-hours meetings with clients who are not on the books. What is he doing with them, and what is stuffed into--and moving around inside--the body bag in the refrigerator? Who is Joe Fideli, a new client or something more sinister?

Bryn finds out the hard way when Fairview and his henchman suffocate her...and she wakes up in the custody (more or less) of Fideli and his boss, Patrick McCallister. McCallister is chief of security for Pharmadene, which has created a revolutionary drug: taken daily, it revives the recently dead and even prevents death. Someone inside the company is selling the drug through fronts like Fairview, and McCallister has to stop it. To do that, he needs Bryn's help.

Bryn has no options. See, when she was suffocated, she died; now her only way to stay out of the grave is to work with McCallister, since he's her source of the drug. Without it, she'll begin to rot and eventually die a second time, but it won't be fast and it won't be painless.

Infuriated by McCallister's aloof attitude, she nevertheless finds herself attracted to the man. But can she trust him, when Pharmadene has its own agenda and McCallister's own boss, Irene Hart, may be a bigger threat than the hidden drug-dealer?

Caine has launched a fun, thrilling new series with this book. Bryn is a capable and multi-faceted heroine, who has an able partner in both McCallister and the delightful Joe Fideli. Both men have surprising secrets that Bryn teases out, but learning about Bryn herself is perhaps the most enjoyable part of the novel. She gets into bad situations but has the grit and determination one would hope to see in a war veteran, with life choices that are both startling and yet fully authentic.

The less said about the villains, the better, as their identity is kept well hidden through the book. Suffice it to say that there are several plots spinning here, and both Bryn and Patrick need all their resourcefulness to survive them.

Not a supernatural urban fantasy by any means, this is a great new take on the popular "zombie" subgenre. Even more interesting, perhaps, is the way Caine has her characters show respect for the dead--something that's missing from nearly every zombie book I've ever read. Well done indeed.


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