Better Off Undead
by D.D. Barant
(St. Martin's, $7.99, R)  ISBN 978-0-31254-505-5 
****
Take out the paranormal in this paranormal suspense novel, and Better Off Undead leaves readers with a fairly gritty crime novel.  The heroine of the series, Jace Valchek, is actually a kidnapped transplant to an alternate-reality second dimension or second world (details on this are kinda vague, since this is several books into the series), Thropirelem, that is very like our Earth but run by supernatural races and with a barely noticeable human population.

Jace is now an agent for the NSA and uses her Earthly profiling skills on a regular basis.  Now, bogged down into a case that is very personal — first, trying to fix Dr. Pete, her close werewolf friend and potential love interest, then trying to capture him after an abysmal failure of an experiment to do just that.

Dr. Pete is now Tair, the same man physically and historically, but now kind of an evil alter-ego.  During his escape, he intentionally infects Jace with the lycanthropy virus.  David Cassius, the vampire head of the NSA, presents her with the option of trying to combat the strain with his own virus.  Between the two different and foreign bodies floating through her bloodstream, Jace is experiencing a lot of physiological and psychological changes as well as a case that never ends.  It started with a crazy werewolf Mafia don, and along the way Tair tangled himself in the mess as well.  So now, all but chasing her own tail, busting trafficking rings left and right, Jace is on a countdown to the full moon, because the only way to undo what's been done to her is to corner Tair before she changes.

Barant's latest Bloodhound novel is fast-paced and satisfying to the nth degree.  Jace is a wiseass, a badass, and sometimes just an ass, but she's the kind of heroine that a reader can sink their teeth into, especially with her well-hidden soft side. There is little to no vulnerability to this woman, and she treats insecurities like she does everything else: head-on and with no fear.  Charlie, her partner, is probably the next most absorbing character, and from a branch of the paranormal that doesn't often appear even with the current trend in the genre:  golems.  Golems actually are a large part of Thropirelem as well as Jace's current case.

I have to say this book would have gone much more smoothly if I'd read any of the previous Barant novels, but I haven't.  I think I picked up all of the important things, but I'd advise starting at the beginning if you've never read a book from the Bloodhound Files.  Even moreso than Caitlin Kittredge, Barant's real aim seems to be presenting the mystery, but with a different kind of character.

--Sarrah Knight


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