Jake Tiptree keeps running into her ex-husband, Victor, which wouldn't be all that unusual --- except that he died of cancer in her very own home. Although he'd been a terrible husband, he was her son's father, and she willingly provided a pleasant end-of-life situation for him in her guest room. In fact, Victor died exactly six years before this story opens, which begins on his "death-iversary" when Jake hears his distinctive voice saying her name while she prepares to take a working trip to her in-laws' family vacation cottage.
"DEAD LEVEL is another excellent page-turner complete with a fast-paced plot, lots of suspense, a believable and sympathetic cast of characters...and tons of drool-worthy descriptions of Maine settings --- not to mention a ghost."
When the telephone rings, Jake jumps. She is so distracted by thinking of that ghostly voice that she finds herself agreeing to write a newspaper series about her unique methods of home repair. As soon as she hangs up, she feels like kicking herself. After all, she's already committed herself to building a new deck on her husband's family summer cottage. In fact, Jake regrets hastily betting $100 to her husband that she can finish the deck project in one week…but now she refuses to lose.
So Jake and her best friend Ellie pack up all the tools, food, drinking water, and other necessities Jake will need for a week in the remote area of the cottage. She will be there alone and working hard at the end of a dirt road after Ellie helps her unload. Ellie thinks this solitary work week is a terrible idea, but she can't talk Jake out of it. Meanwhile, the two women discuss the recent prison escape of convicted wife killer Dewey Hooper. Jake has a personal stake in Hooper's case because she testified against him at his trial. She can't help reminding her friend how much Hooper's murdered wife, Marianne, looked like Ellie. The two women are extremely relieved to learn from the local police chief that Hooper is definitely heading away from the Eastport area, and toward distant big cities.
Of course, readers know right away that Hooper is not driving away from Eastport at all. In fact, as Jake and Ellie unpack at the cottage, Hooper is very close at hand, watching…and planning. He views Jake as an interfering enemy who helped send him to prison. Even more chilling, he believes Ellie is his dead wife returned to haunt him.
Even Jake's down-to-earth stepmother/housekeeper is suffering from a terrible case of the heebie-jeebies. Bella thoroughly cleans the room Victor died in once each year. After Jake and Ellie leave for the cottage, she trudges up the stairs with her cleaning arsenal. She feels vaguely unsettled as she dusts and mops. Then she smells cologne --- the distinctive expensive scent that Victor always used. As she glances into the bureau mirror, she hears the dead man's voice speak her name and catches a glimpse of his face in the glass.
Jake's son, Sam, is also experiencing an unexplainable visitation. As he attempts to help a man whose boat is sinking, Sam hears his deceased father speak to him and also catches a glimpse of his face. If his father's spirit is warning him of danger, it's too late; Sam is already caught in a perilous web.
DEAD LEVEL is another excellent page-turner complete with a fast-paced plot, lots of suspense, a believable and sympathetic cast of characters (including resourceful, strong women to root for), and tons of drool-worthy descriptions of Maine settings --- not to mention a ghost. Somehow, author Sarah Graves manages to make this latest Home Repair is Homicide story, the 15th book in the series, fresh and unpredictable. Her fans are grateful to her for her creativity, and we can't wait to see how she handles #16.
Reviewed by Terry Miller Shannon on May 4, 2012