Something Deadly, by Rachel Lee

>> Thursday, December 28, 2006

Random pick from my TBR: Something Deadly, by Rachel Lee

An island of beauty becomes a gateway to terror...

Few could argue that the exclusive island of San Martin is anything less than paradise. In this wealthy enclave, veterinarian Markie Cross has a thriving practice, but her almost psychic connection to animals has made human relationships - especially with men - harder to navigate. Until mystery, murder and something unfathomable shatter her world . . .

People are dying strange, unexplained deaths. Island medical examiner Declan Quinn is stunned at the unearthly condition of the bodies, and he and Markie share a dark suspicion that something terrifying and impossible is at work here. Something that may not be human.

As a sinister message becomes clearer, Markie and Dec race to understand the tragic history of this island paradise and unlock the true nature of the evil now descending. Because if they can't, Markie may become the next victim...
Well, I should do the random pick thing more often, because Something Deadly was an excellent surprise. A very chilly ghost story, with a nice romance. A B.

The island of Santz Martina (not San Martin, as it says in the back cover) is a Caribbean paradise for the rich. It's prosperous and beautiful and perfect, isolated from the ugliness of the outside world. For both veterinarian Markie Cross and physician Declan Quinn, it's the perfect refuge from a real world that left them on the verge of a breakdown.

Until, that is, people start dying mysteriously. At first sight, the deaths look like heart attacks, but when Declan performs an autopsy (as the only doctor, the post of medical examiner falls to him by default), he finds the bodies completely liquefied inside.

His first thought is some kind of sickness, so he calls the CDC and the whole island gets quarantined. But it soon becomes clear that something very different is going on. Someone has stirred up evil for their own ends, bringing back the spirit of an evil woman who lived in the island some centuries earlier, and this spirit is out on a rampage. Only Declan and Markie seem to understand what might be happening and so it will fall to them (and to Markie's husky, Kato), to stop it.

With so many paranormals around, I feel like I've become desensitized to any kind of supernatural monsters, so it was nice to see that a good ghost story can still make my hair stand on end. SD was deliciously creepy and eerie, with a wonderful atmosphere. The contrast between the paradisiacal island, so perfect that there's a definite Disney World feel to it, and the evil running through it, makes things even more chilling. I also enjoyed the combination of this modernity with the ancient legend and the more recent events in the late '60s, which also play a part in the story.

Oh, and the dogs! You get some scenes from the point of view of both Kato and the dog belonging to the first man who dies, and though it may sound as a cutesy premise, I was surprised to see how well this and the other scenes featuring the dogs obviously noticing something strange increased the creepiness quotient.

I do admit that I thought the actual ghost and her motivations (such as they were) weren't really very convincing, but the atmosphere was used so effectively that it ended up not mattering all that much to me, and I couldn't wait to see what would happen.

This being a romance novel, this scary ghost story is combined with romance, and it felt pretty well integrated. Declan and Markie only knew each other by sight, and they meet for the first time outside the house where the first victim has just died, when Kato drags Markie there by force. From that very first moment, there is a sense of connection there, and there develops a warm and fuzzy and comforting relationship between them. It wasn't particularly exciting or sexy, but I did believe in the solidness of the love I saw developing there, and I did believe that something like this might have developed in such scary, stressful times for them.

The main characters were pretty much like their relationship: not particularly exciting, but very nice, especially good-guy Declan (my fondness for him might have been partly because of his name being Declan. For some reason, I have a weakness for it. I think it might be traced to my love of the character with that name in the TV show Mysterious Ways ). I think what I found more interesting about both of them was the sense of their being refugees from the outside world. In some ways, they both reminded me of a type of character I tend to enjoy: the warrior (be it a knight, a gunslinger, a secret agent or a soldier) who's tired of fighting and is looking for a home where he can tend his garden (or something) in peace.

Given this, I liked that there wasn't any censure of their choice to live in a place where they can enjoy the nice parts of their jobs while avoiding the bad parts. Markie, for instance, loves that since she gets a flat salary from the island government, she can properly treat every animal that comes to her, and not have to let die those whose owners can't afford to pay her. And Declan can concentrate on healing, without having to see all the senseless death he saw in the emergency of a big city hospital. I feared there might be some kind of indictment of their attitude, some kind of ending in which they decided they couldn't keep "hiding from the real world in this Disney Land", or something like that, but there wasn't, and good for Lee for writing it like that.

As sweet and nice as the main romance was, Lee really spiced things up with the secondary characters. We had quite an interesting storyline there, featuring an unfaithful wife coming back to the husband who loves her. I didn't much care for the way in which it ended up developing (I had hoped for the wife getting to appreciate her husband as he was, but we end up with something very different), but I thought the subject matter and the contrast between this couple and Markie and Declan added to the story.

This secondary storyline was tied in with the issue of the "villains", and I liked how Lee managed to keep me doubting and guessing all the book. There wasn't much intrigue about what had actually happened, because we get some scenes from the POV of these people and we know what they did long before Markie and Declan figure it out. Where Lee had me doubting was in whether they were bad or just stupid; what their actions were going to be when push came to shove, and whether they were going to leave things be or try to help solve them, and I loved not knowing until the very end.

I'm very glad I tried Lee again, after having read only one book by her and not having enjoyed it. I'll be checking out her recent backlist.

Note: Do not read the excerpt on the first page of the book. Whoever chose it is an idiot, because it comes from very late in the action and contains pretty big spoilers.


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