Living With the Dead, by Kelley Armstrong

November 30, 2008

In Living With the Dead, Hope Armstrong and her boyfriend Karl Marsden take an extended trip to LA in order to spend time with Robyn. She’s Hope’s recently widowed, fully human best friend, and she works as a PR rep for an up-and-coming celebrity socialite. When Robyn’s client is killed, she makes several extremely bad decisions and becomes the main suspect in the murder investigation.

When she calls Hope and Karl for help, they use their respective chaos half-demon and werewolf skills to find out what really happened. The search involves a secretive group of supernaturals, a powerful Cabal, a ghost, and a cop with a tiny dose of necromancy ability. As the case unfolds, clearing Robyn starts to seem less important than keeping her alive. All this is made more complicated by the fact that they’re trying to keep Robyn in the dark about the supernatural world.

The setup was good, with the only exception being Robyn’s emo tragedy scrapbook. The famous client was surprisingly sympathetic, and it was a relief to see that Hope and Karl were more settled as a couple. I liked that there were supernaturally unaware characters around who were trying to make sense of some of the things that they saw. But after the first murder, the book fell into an exhausting pattern of hunts, chases, and ambushes. The occasional quiet scenes did little to break up the pace, which was so hectic that events often seemed to sweep by and leave little trace. For example, I would have liked to see Robyn react a little more to the things going on around her, especially to her employer’s murder.

Some parts of the investigation got tedious, because so many of the character interactions involved constant suspicion and paranoia. This might have been a bit more tolerable if one of the most mistrusted people wasn’t also one of the many point of view characters. By the end of the book, I’d spent so much time seeing events through his eyes that it was annoying to hear the other characters constantly questioning his motives. More trust between the people who should have been on the same side would have made the book feel a little more cohesive and would have really helped the investigative side of things.

A lot of the heavy mystery or action scenes seemed vague because of sketchy description. Considering the twisty plot and number of supporting characters, we needed clearer details. For example, when a new side character was introduced, I had to look back through the rest of the novel to realize that he had already been noticed by the main characters. I was confusing this new mystery man with one of the other (many) people who had been hovering around the protagonists.

I’m sad to say that this is the second Women of the Otherworld book in a row that I really didn’t care for. Maybe I just don’t like Hope books? I really enjoyed her introduction story in the Dates From Hell anthology, and her power set is pretty intriguing. But her half-demon powers are also one of the things I find frustrating about her. Hope has been around for awhile now, but I still don’t feel like I have a handle on her powers. I get the basic concept of both her abilities and her chaos hunger. But they’re a lot more abstract than the powers of Armstrong’s other characters and I just don’t feel like they’ve been described effectively enough.

Hope is clearly not my favorite character from this series, though I liked her better this time around than I did in Personal Demon. But my biggest problem with Living With the Dead was that I thought all the chases and mysteries and plots and suspicion were over-complicated and bogged down the good parts of the story. I think the book would have benefited from fewer characters, points of view, and side plots, and a little more attention to detail.

[other posts about the Women of the Otherworld series]

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