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“Now that she’s solved her sister’s murder, Hallie Michaels has left the army and isn’t sure what to do next. Her relationship with deputy Boyd Davies is tentative, there’s still distance between her and her father, and she needs a job. The good news is, she hasn’t seen a ghost in weeks.
All that changes when she gets a call asking her to help an elderly neighbor who is being stalked by black dogs, creatures from the underworld that are harbingers of death. When a black dog appears, Hallie learns, a reaper is sure to follow. And if the dark visions she’s suddenly receiving are any indication, it looks like the reaper is now following her.
Meanwhile, strange events herald the arrival of ghosts from Boyd’s past, ghosts the young deputy isn’t ready to face. Refusing Hallie’s help, Boyd takes off to deal with the problem on his own, only to find that he’s facing something much larger and more frightening than he’d imagined.
Stalked by a reaper and plagued by dark visions, Hallie finds she must face her fears and travel into Death’s own realm to save those she most loves.”
With the main framework of the story set up in the first novel of this series, Coates is now free to explore it a bit more. She starts to investigate the limits—or lack thereof—on what supernatural forces can do in our world. It also becomes apparent that Hallie isn’t the only person in town who’s tuned in to the other world. The author really sets up the feeling that there’s something pervasively otherworldly about this town, beyond the radical supernatural events that have cropped up.
What I found most interesting about this book is that, unlike the first novel’s straightforward ghost story, this one goes for a sense of eeriness. The things that happen are rooted in plausibility: the premonition that leaving your house will result in your death; an accident that no-one saw and can’t explain; the person you see out of the corner of your eye that you would swear is a person who died years ago. Of course, the book takes it to weirder extremes than that, but there’s an air of reality to these events that you can’t deny.
I have to give a shout-out to a great minor character, the black dog that follows Hallie around. He’s another supernatural critter hanging around in our world, but there’s something strangely charming about him. He stays with Hallie because he finds her interesting, and he talks in statements that are often quite cryptic. Honestly, he reminds me of a cat in a dog’s body, because he has that same attitude of being amused at us silly humans that your average feline is wont to exhibit. I think he makes a great companion for someone who can see ghosts.
I actually like the minor characters in this book better than Hallie and Boyd. Hallie still sometimes comes across as too abrasive and stubborn to really be likeable, and Boyd for some reason felt overly standoffish. Perhaps it’s because the first book set up their romance and it doesn’t feel like that ever really came together, and we’re left with two people circling each other like suspicious soldiers unsure if the other person is going to pull a gun. I suppose this makes sense, given that Hallie is a veteran and Boyd is a cop, but in terms of a relationship, I don’t think we really got to see them working well together.
Taken by themselves, the main characters work well within the storyline, and since Boyd is away for a good chunk of the novel, their lack of chemistry didn’t bother me too much. This is a story that stands on the strength of its atmosphere and worldbuilding anyway, so I can definitely enjoy it on that level.
Deep Down is a book that doesn’t need monsters and gore to scare you. The creepy setting and eerie events will probably have you looking over your shoulder for overly friendly black dogs. Deborah Coates has crafted some quality supernatural fantasy, and I highly recommend her books to anybody searching for an unusual ghost story.
Also by this author: Wide Open
This review appeared on Owlcat Mountain on June 28, 2013.