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Dead To Me by Anton Strout
Cover Artist: Don Sipley
Review by Drew Bittner
Ace Paperback  ISBN/ITEM#: 9780441015788
Date: 26 February 2008 List Price $7.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /

Simon Canderous can tell a lot about someone with a single touch.

It's a power that comes in handy in his job with New York City's Department of Extraordinary Affairs, but wreaks havoc with his social life.

It's also a power that may get him killed, if he can't navigate his way through a murderous cult, rampaging ghosts, a love interest with some dark secrets, and a dead woman's missing wooden fish.

Such is the story of Dead to Me by Anton Strout. Written with equal parts humor and horror, Strout creates an engaging character in Simon -- one whose shady past and uncertain future generate plenty of adventure.

Starting with a date gone wrong (wherein Simon learns more than he wanted to know by touching his girlfriend's cell phone), the action kicks into high gear when Simon's partner Connor calls, needing his help. A ghost has gone on a rampage, cause unknown, and Connor needs backup. Being able to read the past from an object (psychometry, like Johnny Smith in The Dead Zone) doesn't help when an enraged spirit is bearing down.

Simon and Connor stop by their HQ, fronted by the innocuous-sounding Lovecraft Cafe, for the inevitable paperwork, only to get entangled in a mystery involving the dead-but-not-departed Irene Blatt. Something is keeping her spirit earthbound, and Simon invites her to stay as his guest while they figure it out.

Trouble is, the deeply evil Sectarian Defense League (SDL) is mixed up somehow. Simon gains some insight from a train-riding oracle and a seller of occult books, but things don't seem to add up. And what do little clay pots have to do with insane ghosts?

Matters don't become any clearer when Simon gets a little too close to Jane, the personal assistant to Faisal Bane (the SDL's leader and evil high priest). Jane baffles Simon, as her perky, Midwestern innocence seems totally at odds with working for an evil cult -- but such is life in New York.

Now if only Simon, Jane and Connor can survive the attempts on their lives long enough to figure out what's going on. ...

Strout's writing is clever, fast-paced and a refreshing change in the genre of urban fantasy. Simon learns about the supernatural from official pamphlets (most of which sound as tragically unhip as real government publications) and suffers the sounds-fun-but-isn't problem of having three women in his life at once, all of whom have their flaws.

Which seems like a good time to say that Simon has great supporting characters in this story. Irene is a cipher for much of the story, interested in finding out why she died and who killed her, but susceptible to the mystic nastiness afflicting the restless dead of New York. Tamara (Simon's early-on girlfriend) has very little camera time but becomes part of a pivotal moment later on. And Jane is that uniquely New York combination of small-town arrival turned career girl, working for a blatantly evil organization partly because they have great benefits. (And her diary excerpts are a riot.)

Anton Strout is onto something with Simon and his darkly humorous adventures. It'll be interesting to see where he goes from here.

Recommended.

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