Hallie Michaels is back in civilian life for good, but she’s not sure yet what she wants to do with that life, and she’s loath to be tied down to any one option. An old Army friend offers her a job that would take her away from her small South Dakota hometown again. She’s tempted to take it, but when she checks on her elderly neighbor Pabby Pabahar at her father’s request, Hallie discovers a mystery that may keep her in town for a while.
Pabby’s property is surrounded by black dogs that no one but Pabby and Hallie can see. The dogs, as it turns out, are harbingers of death; they appear when someone’s “time” approaches. What’s really weird is that Pabby knows it’s not her time. Her mother was psychic and predicted Pabby’s date of death — still some years in the future.
Death omens showing up at the wrong time turn out to be the tip of the iceberg. Hallie discovers even more strange occurrences, all of them connected in some way to death. And one of them is intimately connected to Boyd, the deputy Hallie may or may not be dating.
Deborah Coates set up a complex, evocative small-town setting in Wide Open and builds on it in Deep Down, as well as building on the magical goings-on that she created for that first book. She has a great knack for character, revealing a lot about characters and the relationships among them in a few short brushstrokes. Hallie is a tough heroine, but not one of the over-the-top, almost cartoonish ones we’re all tired of; she’s three-dimensional and grounded in real life and real relationships — as an example, her dead sister Dell isn’t just shrugged off as a plot device now that her murder is solved. Coates makes it clear that Hallie is still mourning her. The scary parts of the plot are truly frightening and fit perfectly into the prairie setting. I also loved the occasional bits of dry humor.
WIDE OPEN is planned as a trilogy, and there are certain things that come with being a middle book; namely, loose ends that go unresolved until book 3. Deep Down is no exception — there are some loose ends here. Yet this book has a distinct lack of what I think of as middle-book syndrome. This isn’t one of those books that feels like it’s just marking time until the third book can start. It develops characters, deepens relationships, introduces new supernatural elements, and raises the stakes considerably. Book 3 will certainly be a doozy.
This has quickly become one of the new series I’m most interested in following. I highly recommend Deep Down (and definitely read Wide Open first). On a lighter note, Deep Down has also earned a place on my list of Books with Cute Hellhounds!