Posted on September 30, 2009 by Monica Valentinelli
Billed as Jim Butcher-light, DEAD TO ME is an urban fantasy novel for debut author Anton Strout. In this series, the main character (named Simon Canderous) struggles with his psychometric ability while working for the Department of Extraordinary Affairs in Manhattan.
Strout introduces Simon as a conflicted character who hasn’t quite figured everything out yet. His ability allows Simon to get a psychic impression (which is portrayed as if Simon is reliving a memory) off of everything he touches — including people. Sometimes those impressions are multi-layered; sometimes they’re not. His psychometric ability has affected everything from Simon’s moral judgments to his love life and even his health; there is definitely a “cost” to Simon’s inability to control his power. Not only are relationships challenging for him, Simon also wears gloves to prevent himself from accidentally touching something. I liked the fact that Simon Canderous isn’t painted as a “perfect” character who can simply use his ability willy-nilly. To make up for his sordid past, Simon has wound up working as a relatively new recruit for the Department of Extraordinary Affairs (DEA), a group that operates under-the-radar to ensure humanity’s safety from the paranormal. Even the poorly-funded DEA isn’t perfect and tidy, for characters in DEAD TO ME often get caught up in a lot of red tape related to budget woes and crappy politics.
Ghosts are Strout’s primary supernatural entity of choice in DEAD TO ME, and I thoroughly enjoyed what he did with them. In my opinion, ghosts are often under-used in urban fantasy, because they’re difficult to write about. Often, you’ll see ghosts featured as malevolent entities that attack the characters. Not so in DEAD TO ME, for beauty definitely isn’t just skin deep. Enter Irene Blatt, a lovely ghost with a shoddy memory who hasn’t realized she’s dead yet. Guided by his mentor, Connor Christos, Irene’s unusual presence sends Simon on an investigative chase through some sticky situations. For in Simon’s world, the ghosts could end up in a fate worse than Irene’s…
Strout’s prose in DEAD TO ME is clear, straightforward and to the point; his writing style offers readers a chance to really dig in to the setting to get a laugh or two. A fun read, I enjoyed the Lovecraft Cafe, the frightening bookcase at the Tome Sweet Tome bookstore, the politically-correct cultists and the museum. Even though there is a fair amount of humor in DEAD TO ME, there’s enough of a serious side here that grounds the story so it doesn’t get “too” corny. I felt that Strout’s urban fantasy/dark comedic tone is similar to ANGEL, MEN IN BLACK and HELLBOY.
I enjoyed DEAD TO ME because it wasn’t trying to be deep or pretentious; it’s meant to be a fun, urban fantasy read that you can put away in a night’s sitting. When reading it, I never got “pulled out” from the story; I felt that there was a good balance of cost vs. benefit in the book which enhanced its readability. Both the writing and the structure of the book was really good for a debut novel that is littered with nuggets of laugh-out-loud moments. I should point out that even though there are relationships in DEAD TO ME, this is more of a rollicking investigative adventure than a paranormal romance.
For more information about the author, visit the official website of Anton Strout.
Review by Monica Valentinelli