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WesternSFA
Strange Country
by Deborah Coates
Tor, $26.99, 332pp
Publication Date: May 27, 2014
This is the last of the trilogy including “Wide Open” and “Deep Down.” Hallie Michaels was in the Army when she died for several minutes during an operation in Afghanistan . After the experience, Hallie can see ghosts. She spent the first book dealing with her sister’s murder by a would-be evil sorcerer. The second book dealt with a renegade Reaper who wanted to be human again. It ended with Death asking Hallie to take his place. Click here for the review of “Wide Open” and here for “Deep Down.”

This one is a straight-up murder mystery; well, almost straight-up. Boyd answered a late-night call about a prowler from Prue Stalking Horse. The only thing Boyd, or anyone else for that matter, knew about Prue was that she was strange and knew magic. Hallie’s friend, Laddie, warned her that Prue couldn’t be trusted but Hallie thought Laddie knew more than that about Prue. When Prue was murdered by a sniper with a high-powered rifle right in front of Boyd, everyone assumed it was an ordinary type of murder by an ordinary type murderer. But no one could think of a motive - until Boyd found the skeleton in Prue’s basement….and the three stones.

Meanwhile, Hallie is hiding inside the hex ring at Pabby’s farm, now hers from Pabby’s will. Hallie is sure Death will appear soon for an answer to his question: will Hallie take his place? But there’s also an Unmaker drifting about the countryside and Hallie has no idea what has brought it or how to get rid of it.

Then Beth, Death’s daughter, shows up and offers to take Death’s place; which is proper in her mind. Beth has never felt connected to anyone or anything since her sister died and is desperate for a life’s purpose. Hallie is the one who can help her enter Hell. Hallie, of course, is wracked with guilt over the idea that it’s really her responsibility and she doesn’t want to be the one to send Beth to Hell. She feels like she’s cheating death once more and wonders if there will be a price to pay.

The sniper claims another victim in Hallie’s friend, Laddie. Laddie also had a magic stone that enabled him to speak to the dead. But Laddie was always down-on-his-luck and a hapless fellow, so again: what was the motive? The stone? Boyd thought so but when he brought Laddie’s stone together with the three from Prue’s basement, it blew a truck-sized hole in his house. And then an attempt was made on Tel, which is when Boyd and Hallie started to put together the pieces. And it all pointed to an event twenty years earlier when Prue’s sister disappeared and Prue, Laddie and Tel were all there. As was Billie, the man who was now a skeleton in Prue’s basement. And it just happened to be on the same site where Martin Weber’s grandmother lived. And practiced bad magic.

I remain impressed with this trilogy. The writing is concise, the pacing good, and the dialogue as spare as the South Dakotan landscape. I also appreciated her world-building; I felt cold and desolate along with Hallie. The plot was good although I didn’t appreciate it until the pieces came together at the end; but then, I usually feel like that when reading a murder mystery. I look forward to seeing what else this writer can do. ~~ Catherine Book

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