Series: HALLIE MICHAELS SERIES
Plot Type: Rural Fantasy; Mystery with a Touch of Horror
Ratings: Violence—4; Sensuality—2-3; Humor—1
Publisher and Titles: Tor
Wide Open (3/2012)
Deep Down (3/2013)
One of Coates' strongest skills is her ability to create a sense of place. Her descriptions are masterful as she matches the action in the story to the open, wintry prairie using a full range of sensory description. In this scene, Boyd is on night patrol on a wintry March night: "He felt as if the wide-open prairie and the distant smattering of lights at scattered ranches and mobile homes and crossroads were a separate world, his world...A cold dry wind blew out of the northwest. A tumble-weed bounced onto the road, hit the side of the car with a hollow scratch, and was gone somewhere behind him…There was something ahead, a shadow in the twilight at the edge of his high beams. He slowed. Coyote…Light from the coyote's eyes reflected straight back at him, sharp and otherworldly. It trotted toward him along the road. When it dew parallel to the car, it turned its head and seemed to look directly at him before it angled across the old pavement and disappeared back into the night and the prairie…A vast nothingness surrounded him. Darkness and grass, wind and cold." (p. 13)
Hallie's love interest, whom she meets in book 1, is Boyd Davies, deputy sheriff of Taylor County. He comes across as a straight-arrow Boy Scout, but he Hallie soon learns that Boyd has had his own share of contact with the magical world.
NOVEL 1: Wide Open
NOVEL 2: Deep Down
The first book in this series was a solidly constructed horror mystery with overtones of magic, but this book isn't nearly so well put together. This plot is shapeless and full of so much incomprehensible woo-woo that it's hard to care about what will happen next. Hallie never really gets a handle on what's going on until the very end of the book, and the ongoing clues from Death and the dog are so cryptic that I gave up trying to figure them out. The relationship between Hallie and Boyd takes a few steps forward into intimacy, but since they are rarely in a scene together, it's hard to figure out how they've actually gotten their romance going at all.
Because of the repetitive twists and turns in the story line, the author relies on the trope of having Hallie pause from time to time to mentally tick off all of the relevant events so that she (and we) can keep track of what's going on. Here's one of those moments late in the story as Hallie tells Boyd, "'Here's what I know.' She ticked things off on her fingers. 'I know Travis Hollowell is a reaper. I know what a reaper does. I know that the walls between living and dying have gotten thin. They're getting thinner all the time. I know the hex ring keeps them out and that iron or the combination of steel, blood, and sacrament can hurt them. That's what I know." (p. 196) Boyd's response is "That's not enough It doesn't solve anything." And he's right about that. (By the way, Hallie's tick-off list is not a spoiler; all of that info is revealed very early in the story.)
In conclusion, I'll just say that this book didn't work for me. The plot is murky and nebulous, with the main characters just stumbling around getting beaten up until they finally are literally pushed/pulled into the final climactic scene that resolves most of the issues. The novel's main strength is in the character of Hallie, who is trying to deal with the magical consequences of dying and coming back to life back in Afghanistan. That death experience has made her open to all kinds of magic—most of it very dark—and she is living on the edge between reality and...something else—a very uncomfortable place to be. The author gets Hallie's blunt, sometimes sarcastic dialogue just right. If this plot had been better defined, this could have been a much better book.