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This blog entry was revised and updated on 6/13/12 to include a review of the second book in the series: Blood on the Bayou. That review comes first, followed by an overview of the world-building and a review of book 1:
BOOK 2: Blood on the Bayou
At the very end of book 1, Hitch (Annabelle's ex-boyfriend) asked Annabelle to help him track down a laboratory connected with the murder of one of his FBI friends. By this time, Annabelle is juggling three love interests, trying to keep her fairy-tainted condition a secret, and doing her best to control her alcohol use. Even though Stephanie (Hitch's fiancée) is expecting their child, Annabelle still has feelings for Hitch (and vice versa), so she agrees to assist him. Cane (Annabelle's current boyfriend) has been avoiding Annabelle for the past month following their argument about their future (and about Hitch), but she still loves him, too. And then there is Tucker, the mysterious (and sexy) man who supplies her with the vaccine to keep her fairy condition under control. Love (or is it lust?) can get really complicated for UF heroines!
The plot follows Annabelle and her interactions with each of the three men. With Hitch, she is on the trail of a hidden cave that holds a laboratory that is manufacturing drugs using fairy venom. Unfortunately, she suspects that Hitch isn't telling her the whole story about this situation (and she's right). With Cane, Annabelle is trying to re-establish a loving relationship, but then she learns that he, too, is keeping important secrets. Tucker comes to Annabelle's aid several times, but by now Annabelle is pretty sure that she can't truly trust anyone.
As the plot plays out, Annabelle finds out more information about her new fairy-related powers, which are becoming stronger and more varied. She has some dangerous confrontations with the fairies and realizes that they want her dead so that she can't use her powers against them. She also learns that there are two types of fairies—and that they don't get along at all. Then, the Big Man, who ultimately controls the vaccine that Annabelle needs to remain sane, reappears with more threats. At one time or another Annabelle and her three men are all put into life-threatening situations of one type or another. By the end, Annabelle discovers that it's not just her male friends who betray her.
This is a fast-paced story with a compelling plot, lots of action, and plenty of new information added to the series story arc. Once again, the plot is full of twists and turns and there are a few red herrings, but not as many as in book 1. Annabelle is definitely a heroine with a level of morality that won't be acceptable for every reader. She frequently lets her libido take over in her relationships with the men in her life, and since she believes that she can't entirely trust any of them, she tries to keep those affairs as shallow as possible—mostly based on physical fulfillment—because emotional relationships have brought her nothing but betrayal and heartache so far. The world-building in this series is so fresh and inventive that I'm eagerly looking forward to book 3.
Taking her heroine's name from Edgar Allan Poe's famous poem, the author places Annabelle Lee deep in southern Louisiana in the town of Donaldsonville, where she works as a field agent for Fairy Containment and Control (FCC), a government agency. In this world, a great mutation occurred some years ago among the fairies, and they now have the strength and the venom to bite and kill humans. The fairy infestation area covers much of the Deep South, including Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi, and Georgia. Unfortunately for most humans, fairy bites are fatal. People either die instantly or they linger until they go insane and finally die. Here's how Annabelle explains it: "For 75% of the human population, Fey venom leads to insanity, with a slow build to batshit crazy that makes syphilis look gentle by comparison. Another 10% develop ulcers on the spine that twist healthy bodies into torturous shapes before causing death. And yet another 10% die instantaneously, hearts stilled within seconds of infection." (p. 4) The final 5% are immune, and most of them have jobs that put them in contact with the fairies in ways that the rest of the population could not handle. Annabelle is one of those lucky few, although she has mixed feelings about that: "There are times...when I wish I wasn't part of the lucky 5%. But I know I'm in the minority on that....Most immune people think they've been blessed, that collecting fairy shit and egg sacs is a holy calling. They feel lucky when they're called in to do non-immune people's work for them."(p. 5)
The fairies are repelled by iron, which kills them if they ingest it. Only a few towns are left in the infested area, and each one is enclosed by a huge iron fence, with all the buildings connected by iron cables. The area outside the fences is now wilderness, inhabited only by water-dwelling wildlife, fierce highwaymen, and hordes of fairies. The fairies can't get to many of the alligators, snakes, and other reptiles because they can hide underwater. People travel from city to city in iron-armored vans. The one and only advantage of the fairy infestation is they have eaten up most of the mosquitoes—their source for second-hand human blood.
Jobs for immune people are plentiful, ranging from low-level sample-gathering to upper-level research positions. Annabelle, who in earlier years was a pre-med student, has opted to spend the past six years at the very lowest level of the FCC. In her current job, she goes out beyond the fence to collect fairy excrement and egg sacs from the bayous and turns them in to her boss in Baton Rouge to be used by scientists who are trying to find a cure for the fatal fairy venom. For this, Annabelle is paid a substantial sum of money, much more than she needs to sustain her shabby life style. Annabelle lives in a low-rent house, wears thrift-store-level clothes, and spends little money on food. Her main expense—and her primary recreation—is drinking various alcoholic beverages, from beer to bloody Marys to rum 'n Coke to whatever is available. She tells herself that she is content because she loves Donaldsonville and its people, and she doesn't have to commit to anyone or anything. Her inability to commit even applies to her possessions, of which there are very few. She doesn't even own a car; she gets around on a bicycle with a small "trailer" attached to the rear to carry her equipment. As Annabelle explains, the reason she rides a bicycle instead of a car is "because I'm rarely sober after five o'clock."(p. 89)
Not surprisingly, Annabelle has had some tragedy in her past. When she and her sister were on a camping trip when they were in their teens, her sister was attacked and bitten by fairies and died in Annabelle's arms. Annabelle's wealthy mother never forgave Annabelle for being the daughter who survived, and so she ran away from her upper-class home and has not communicated with her family for many years. She spent the next years in a group home, where she became best friends with Marcy, the director. Later, while in med school, she had a long-term romantic relationship with Herbert Mitchell Rideau ("Hitch"), which seemed like it was heading into a happy future. Then, there was a horrible incident that caused their immediate break-up. (I won't be more specific because that would be a spoiler.) At that point, Annabelle quit school, moved to Donaldsonville, and took up her laid-back, disheveled, alcohol-fogged life. Her friend, Marcy also lives in Donaldsonville, so Annabelle has at least one close friend. As the series opens, Annabelle has been in a relationship with Cane Cooper, a sexy police detective, for over a year. He's pressuring her for a commitment, but Annabelle's not ready, and she's not sure that she ever will be.
The fact that Stacia Kane is one of Jay's critique partners explains why I kept thinking of the DOWNSIDE GHOSTS series all the while I was reading this book. (Click HERE to read my review of that series.) That heroine, Chess Putnam, is also addicted, but to drugs, not alcohol. The worlds and plots of the two series are quite different, but their heroines could be sisters, with their lives of dark hopelessness and their attempts to escape from the pain of reality through substance abuse. DOWNSIDE GHOSTS is one of my favorite series, and I am also enjoying DEAD ON THE DELTA.
Book 1: Dead on the Delta
As book 1 opens, Annabelle, Cane, and other police officers are at a murder scene of a six-year-old child. Since the body was left outside the iron gate, Annabelle must gather the evidence and bag the body of the victim, who is the daughter of the town's wealthiest family. Later in the day, Annabelle heads for out to the bayous to collect her usual samples and finds a Breeze house—a trailer in which someone is concocting Breeze, a potent drug that Annabelle describes as "dried fairy crap mixed with bleach—the new crack."(p. 5). Breeze is a huge problem because when a person takes Breeze even once, he or she is doomed to eventual death. While Annabelle is in the bayous, a female Breeze addict attacks her, but Annabelle overcomes her, ties her up, and leaves her under a tree. By the end of the day, the FBI has sent two agents from its Fairy Investigation Division to Donaldsonville to investigate Annabelle for breaking the rule against leaving an addict alone. They also are planning to work with the local police on the young girl's murder case, which they believe is related to three other murders of young blonde girls. Unfortunately for Annabelle, the two agents are Hitch and his current girlfriend, Special Agent Stephanie Thomas, and it's obvious that Hitch and Stephanie are romantically involved. Hitch is now a doctor, and he's working as a fairy forensics specialist for the FBI. Could this week get any worse for Annabelle? Oh yes, it could and it does.
The plot follows Annabelle as she drinks her way through the next few days, coping with the love-hate antagonism between herself and Hitch and her increasingly bumpy relationship with Cane (which is exacerbated by an inadvertent filming of a passionate kiss between Hitch and Annabelle inside Cane's police car). At one point Hitch tells her "You were brilliant, near the top of our class. You could be saving lives. Instead, you're a borderline alcoholic working a job a trained monkey could do." (p. 259) Wow! Don't sugarcoat it, Hitch! All the while, hard-to-read clues emerge as to the identity of the killer. Complicating matters is the fact that Annabelle begins going through some strange physical changes after she is badly bitten (for the first time ever) by a swarm of fairies while she is out in the bayou with Hitch. Not all of the plot threads are tied up by the end of the story. The plot has some holes and rough spots in its construction, with its muddy mixture of drug dealers, arrested and/or suspected friends, never-ending relationship drama, and two mysterious disappearing men. Too many red herrings swim through the story with no real connection to the plot (e.g., the Kings, a street gang, which is mentioned in just one scene as a threat to Annabelle but is never heard from again; the murders of the blond girls that were the excuse to get Hitch to Donaldsonville but are never mentioned again). The entire involvement of Cane's sister and her friend seems awkward, as if the author needed a way to solve a plot problem and took the easiest route.
I'm guessing that the unresolved plot threads will be woven into the plot of the next book, so I'm not too concerned about that (although some readers have criticized this). My problem is more with the plot structure, which would benefit from being tightened up so that it unfolded in a slightly less sprawling manner, with fewer unnecessary characters/details/scenes. I suspect that we'll soon have three possible love interests: Cane, Hitch (who returns in book 2), and Tucker (one of the two invisible men). If so, it might be well for Annabelle to ease up on the alcohol so that she can better handle the difficulties that come with juggling romantic relationships with three handsome, alpha males.