Don of the Dead and The Chick and The Dead by Casey Daniels

I just finished these two books this week. I guess they fall under paranormal mystery. Paranormal because the main character (Pepper Martin) can see and hear the dead ever since she tripped and hit her head on the steps of a mausoleum at work (she's a cemetery tour guide in Cleveland). In the first book its dead mob boss Gus Scarpetti who shows up and pesters her until she agrees to help solve the mystery of his 30 year old death by drive-by. In book two its Didi Bowman, who needs Pepper to prove that her sister Merilee stole Didi's manuscript "So Far the Dawn", a Gone with the Wind-like tale with a fervored fan following. There are some cozy mystery elements (Pepper is an amateur sleuth, the mystery was really light, and the really violent stuff happens off-screen: Pepper almost gets killed a couple of times, but I wasn't worried), and very light romance with a detective (Quinn Harrison), and a "brain man" (Dan Callahan) who keeps trying to study her and isn't all he seems.

Overall I thought the series was OK. Probably a 6-6.5 out of 10 for me.

The good: The writing really flowed. I didn't find myself bored, and I was a little surprised that when I googled and went to Casey Daniels' website it looked like these were her only two books. She didn't seem like a first time author to me. So I googled more and found out Daniels is a pseudonym for Connie Laux (but only 3 books under that name too). The closest thing I can compare this author to would be Janet Evanovich.. but I'd say a less sexed up version (which is a good thing, because I don't like Stephanie Plum. There. I said it). The side characters are well-formed, and there is a really interesting thread that ties the series; this ability and Dan the brain-man's interest in it is a mystery itself. I think that mystery is what Daniels is going to use to keep readers reading (I know its driving me a little crazy), as well as the really slow building love triangle that hasn't got anything serious going on so far, but maybe people will want to see if anything does happen. Basically the books are a fun, light, read and the style is very easy to get into.

The less good:  a) It feels like Dan was meant to be this absent-minded but brilliant doctor interested in Pepper's brain scans for most of book 1, then he suddenly starts acting fishy and mysterious, hinting that he is someone else – did the author change their mind halfway? I'm suspicious it wasn't planned, but I guess its OK, though I don't fully buy his sudden change. Also he is barely mentioned in book 2, what's up there? b) I think that we're supposed to see Pepper's growth from a rich, daddy's girl who never expected to have a job to someone more self-confident who believes in her own intelligence. Problem is, this meant I didn't like Pepper's character for the first half of the first book – she was ditsy and annoying, didn't figure out some really obvious things (she grows out of this but still I found some of the mystery was obvious to me but not to Pepper in both books), and spends a lot of time happily bouncing her boobs in front of men. Which brings me to c) OK.. WHAT is up with the breast obssession? In book 1, I think just about EVERY. SINGLE. MALE character in the book stares at Pepper's breasts. Young, old (30+ years her senior), half paralyzed, they all stare and pretty much LEER. And they are just Cs, and I'm pretty sure they aren't popping out of some skintight top or something, so I really don't understand or care. I wasn't sure if I should be annoyed about the depiction of Pepper, because Pepper didn't seeme to mind, even puffing them out in certain scenes (even after arguing with Scarpetti about his chauvanism. Is she supposed to be feminist?), or annoyed at the depiction of men (in this century, I think most men know that's rude, or at least have developed a finely tuned way of not being obvious. At least don't make ALL the men in this book do that). Thank god that in Book 2 the detailed interchange of meet Pepper, stare/leer at boobs, Pepper talks etc, happened much less. Sadly Pepper also talks to more women than men in book 2. I still hope that this trend is dying. Finally, d) Pepper's fortunes changed so that she has to work - her dad was a surgeon bringing in 6 figures before who was convicted of fraud and Pepper lost friends and a fiance because of this. While it is often mentioned, we never see Pepper talk to either her dad in jail or her mother who moved to Florida. I wish I could see more personal interaction there than Pepper just being emo over it and repeating what I already know – dad's in jail, lost my fiance, gotta job – but I don't really believe I see anything that shows she's really messed up over except once thinking someone's guilty face reminded her of her father lying, unless not talking to her parents counts. Maybe in Book 3 – Tombs of Endearment.

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