Asked what he calls The Dresden Files, Jim Butcher said he likes the term "contemporary fantasy" to refer to books set in contemporary times that feature paranormal elements. That's the perfect definition of Deborah Coates' books. I've never known exactly how to refer to them. Are they horror? Paranormal? They have elements of both, along with a tough protagonist. Coates' books depend on the eerie atmosphere created by the isolated landscape in rural South Dakota. And, they depend on an eerie atmosphere created as Hallie Michaels copes with ghosts, black dogs, harbingers of death, and Death himself. Strange Country, the third in the series featuring Hallie Michaels and sheriff's deputy Boyd Davies, is a powerful, creepy novel.
Boyd Davies is patrolling West Prairie City when he answers a call about a prowler. Prue Stalking Horse was never the type to show fear. She "knew things", understanding some of the odd events since Hallie Michaels had faced down the evil man who killed her sister and other young women. But, when Davies showed up that night, she seemed to sense, and accept, that someone had been in her house. As Boyd left, he turned to talk to Prue, who was then shot to death. When another resident is killed immediately after calling Hallie, Boyd and Hallie realize there's a strange connection between some of the locals, a secret that goes back twenty years. While Davies digs into the past, Hallie walks toward an uncertain future in answer to phone calls and notes left at her place. Anonymous phone calls have asked, "What do you fear?" "Do you fear death?" How does Hallie's trip to the Badlands, dead animals, and ghosts connect with the people being shot in West Prairie City?
Coates gives readers two courageous characters. Hallie Michaels and Boyd Davies are determined to find answers. They need each other as only two lonely people can, but they're both independent. They're angry that they've failed to protect people. As Davies accepts his role, investigating and searching for solutions to crimes, Hallie, too, must accept a role as one who can communicate with the dead, and Death himself. Do you believe in ghosts? Harbingers of death? Hallie Michaels didn't believe at one time. Coates' settings and situations become all the more real because Hallie was a down-to-earth soldier whose life, and beliefs, were turned upside down. Strange Country is the latest compelling story of the paranormal and its abnormal role in this world.
Deborah Coates' website is www.deborah-coates.com
Strange Country by Deborah Coates. Tor. 2014. ISBN 9780765329028 (hardcover), 332p.
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