One might be forgiven for thinking, if only for a moment, that “Heather Graham” is the collective name for the occupants of a small hamlet in Illinois (population 700). First there are the books. Over 100 of them --- each different, each intriguing, each very well done, indeed. Then there are the public appearances, the generosity of time and spirit displayed at writers’ workshops (not to mention the invaluable advice), and the works of mercy and kindness that she quietly performs for their own sake. I assure you, however, that all of this is done by one person --- Heather Graham. She does all of this and somehow finds time for regular sleep. Usually during the second weekend in February.
As often happens, Graham is a very nice person who writes surprisingly scary books. Which brings us to THE DEATH DEALER, a sequel to 2007’s THE DEAD ROOM. Impossible as it may seem, this latest novel is even better, bringing a number of characters back from THE DEAD ROOM while changing the focus a bit and keeping things new.
Most of us who love mystery and thriller novels cut our teeth on the work of Edgar Allan Poe; THE DEATH DEALER pays a memorable and proper tribute to the man and his work. Genevieve O’Brien, who narrowly survived abduction and imprisonment at the hands of a deranged killer in THE DEAD ROOM, becomes involved with The Poe Society when one of the members --- known as the Ravens --- is murdered. One of the few clues is a cryptic note left at the scene of the crime. When it appears that another Raven has been attacked by the same individual, O’Brien becomes concerned for Elaine, her mother, who is also a member of the club. She retains private investigator Joe Connolly to investigate in order to find the killer before he claims additional victims.
O’Brien has one ulterior motive: it was Connolly who saved her life in THE DEAD ROOM. She has since developed feelings that have gone beyond the deep fond. Connolly behaves distantly towards her, however, and only reluctantly takes the case, not totally convinced that Elaine is in any danger. What O’Brien does not know is that Connolly is seeing ghosts --- literally. Corpses are speaking to him from morgue slabs, and his cousin and his cousin’s fiancée are appearing to him, warning him of danger and providing him with clues. When he takes the case, however, Connolly finds that there are no lack of suspects for murder. And when additional victims are discovered, a pattern becomes clear. Someone is killing people in the ways described in some of Poe’s most famous stories --- and O’Brien is on target to become the next victim.
THE DEATH DEALER can stand tall upon its mystery and thriller elements alone, but Graham throws more than the standard genre elements into the mix. Even the most casual Poe readers will find much of interest here, with factoids concerning the noted author’s habitat, past, and tragic enigmatic end sprinkled liberally throughout the narrative. There are also strong elements of romance on both sides of the veil, as well as the possibility that, as far as books featuring Genevieve O’Brien are concerned, Graham may just be getting warmed up. Put THE DEATH DEALER on your have-to-read list.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 7, 2011