by Cynthia Chow
This week we have a review of Dead Before Dying, a new paranormal mystery by Kerry Schafer, along with an interesting behind the book interview with Kerry. Details at the end of this post on how to win an ebook copy of the book, and a link to purchase it where a portion goes to help support KRL & an indie bookstore.
Dead Before Dying By Kerry Schafer
Review by Cynthia Chow
Maureen Keslyn knew that her recovery after a horrific shooting wouldn’t be pleasant. After spending three weeks in a hospital, she didn’t expect that her husband would have already moved a replacement into her home. Pride has Maureen without living arrangements and not yet ready for retirement, so what initially seemed like an unappealing proposition, now has its merits. Her FBI partner Abel Galloway is offering Maureen an undercover assignment within Shadow Valley Manor, where she will recover amidst the other elderly residents. It’s a humiliating position that she would refuse were it not originating from Phil Evers, the 007 of paranormal investigators. He also happens to have been Maureen’s former lover.
Once Maureen forcefully installs herself within Shadow Valley Manor, she quickly realizes that something is very off about the sterile and inhospitable facility. Despite its claims to not be a nursing home, guests are ruled by an iron fist and guarded by an even more imperious nurse. While Maureen fears that Phil has given her the task out of pity, it is overruled by the possibility that he also believes she is the only person capable of completing the job. It’s a task that may prove more formidable than anyone could have expected and extend far beyond imaginable controls, and Maureen’s only allies are a Goth crematorium worker and the jaded local sheriff.
I began this book having little knowledge of what was in store, and that is perhaps the best way to experience this very enjoyable genre-blending novel. Although there are passing mentions of Maureen and Phil being part of an FBI paranormal investigative unit, the multiplying murders create an atmosphere of mystery and horror. The consistent thread throughout the novel is the wry and very sardonic. Maureen, whose intelligence, strong will, and experience quickly has readers confident in her skills. The oppressive setting feels reminiscent of Stephen King’s The Shining, but what sets this novel apart is an appealing heroine, acerbic and witty dialogue, and darkly compelling plot.
Interview with Kerry Schaefer:
KRL: You often write in the fantasy genre, so what led you to decide to blend fantasy with a more traditional mystery plot?
Kerry: Fantasy is only one of my loves. I’m crazy about mysteries and thrillers, I read a lot of young adult and I also very much enjoy a good women’s fiction or literary read. My very favorite books often blend genres and when I’m writing I have a hard time coloring inside the lines, so blending paranormal and mystery just sort of happened. I also have a women’s fiction novel coming out in March from Lake Union Press. It’s called Closer Home and is written under my pen name – Kerry Anne King.
KRL: The novel often felt like a traditional mystery novel, where all of the suspects and killers are locked in together. Did you have an inspiration that led you to write this scenario?
Kerry: I spent a lot of time thinking about the structure of my favorite whodunits when I was planning Dead Before Dying. I adore the mysteries written by Martha Grimes, partly for the mystery, but mostly for her fabulous characters. I re-read her first few Inspector Richard Jury novels (I’ve read them all) and paid close attention to the way she developed both character and plot.
KRL: Maureen is not your typical FBI agent. She’s older, she’s a woman and she’s as skilled as she is lethal. Why did you chose to make her the lead investigator in this novel?
Kerry: Maureen decided it for herself. I was looking for a main character and she wrote herself onto the page. This really happened. What is also true is that I love strong older women. They know what they want and they have gotten over worrying about what other people think. I needed a character old enough to fit in at Shadow Valley Manor and Maureen was perfect for the job.
KRL: The paranormal element is introduced late into the novel, although there are hints in the beginning. Would you ever consider writing a straight mystery novel without any fantasy or paranormal characters?
Kerry: Actually, I have already written a straight mystery/thriller. I tried to publish it before I got the contract for the Between books. Nobody picked it up and I set it aside for awhile, but now I think I know what it needs. As soon as I can find time in my current writing line-up to fit it in, I plan to get back to that novel, give it a good overhaul and try again.
KRL: Maureen’s past relationship with Phil Evers plays a critical role in involving her in the investigation. Do you ever see incorporating another romantic element in her future?
Kerry: There are already some sparks between Maureen and Sheriff Jake Callahan – you never know what might come of that. And, of course, other men will show up in the course of the series, so it’s highly possible. Don’t tell Maureen I said that, she’d probably smack me upside the head and fire me as her writer!
KRL: What books, movies and television shows are you currently enjoying? What were the ones that inspired you in the past, and are any inspiring you in your writing today?
Kerry: I don’t watch much TV these days, frankly. What with work and writing I just don’t have the time. I did watch the Librarians series faithfully – I love the mixture of fantasy and mystery and humor they’ve written into that show. As for movies, I love a good spy movie and the two Red movies were fabulous. If I could cast a character as Maureen I’d go for Helen Mirren.
As for books – I’ve been rereading some of the Amelia Peabody mysteries by Elizabeth Peters. The characters in her novels, especially the later ones where Ramses and Nefret have plenty of page time, are just wonderful. Carol Berg’s most recent fantasy releases are fantastic.
The last book I read was The Dark Hour by Lori Rader-Day, a dark psychological thriller, beautifully written and the sort of book that makes you think. As for past inspiration, I’m hard pressed to think of a book that didn’t inspire me in one way or another. For Dead Before Dying, definitely Dean Koontz’s work, especially Odd Thomas. Everything I ever read by Charles Dickens and the original Dracula novel. Oh, and the Buffy the Vampire Slayer series. I came to it late, having never seen the show before a couple of years ago. I didn’t expect to like it, but was immediately caught up by the mixture of pathos and humor, the stellar cast of characters and especially the playful element of the unexpected. I think Buffy and Maureen would hit it off if they ever met.
To enter to win an ebook copy of Dead Before Dying, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “dying,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen February 20, 2016. U.S. residents only. If entering via email please include your mailing address, and if via comment please include your email address.
You can use this link to order this book & a portion goes to help support KRL & an indie bookstore:
Check out other mystery articles, reviews, book giveaways & mystery short stories in our mystery section.