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WesternSFA
Working Stiff
by Rachel Caine
Roc, $7.99, 396pp
Release Date: August 2, 2011

Rachel Caine is prolific, with 22 novels to her name already in three well-developed series: The Morganville Vampires, Outcast Season, and Weather Warden; now here she goes with a new one, as Working Stiff is identified as a Revivalist novel.

I loved the beginning, when Army veteran Bryn Davis is starting her new job as Funeral Director at the prestigious Fairview Mortuary outside La Jolla , California . Bryn has long since come to terms with the reality and inevitability of death during her four years in Iraq, but she encounters more than she reckoned for with her boss, the handsome but slightly sinister Mr. Fairview – who is NOT, contradictory to the established tropes of romance fiction, a romantic interest for our heroine. No, Mr. Fairview disqualifies himself as the heroic lead when he turns out to be illegally and immorally selling a drug that brings the recently dead back to life; and as if that weren’t bad enough, he orders Bryn’s termination when she stumbles across the illicit side of the business.

Bryn gets recruited by a shadow agency to discover where the supply of the drug is coming from. There are billions of dollars at stake, not to mention military applications and political fallouts. As the story ratchets up the pace and the risk factor, the humor evident in the first chapter gets lost in the excitement, but it’s a reasonably fair trade-off. Bryn is a strong and likable heroine; there’s enough mystery about her and several of her family members that you want to find out more; and the supporting cast members are interestingly distinct. Oh, and there is a romantic love after all. It’s in violation of dual role boundaries, of course, but at least the characters agonize over that for a bit before they decide to carpe the old diem. ~~ Chris R. Paige

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