Series: DREAMWALKER MYSTERY SERIES
Plot Type: Paranormal Cozy Mystery
Ratings: Violence—3; Sensuality—2; Humor—2
Publisher and Titles: Five Star/Cengage Learning, Inc.
Gone and Done It (hardcover and e-book, 4/2014)
NOVEL 2: Bubba Done It
The series is set in (mythical) Sinclair County, Georgia, in Marion, the small coastal town in which both Baxley and Roland grew up. Her parents still live there. In fact, her father is the county dreamwalker. That means that he can contact the dead in the dreamworld. If anyone in Marion needs to communicate with a dead friend or relative, they ask Baxley's dad to do it for them. Neither Baxley nor her father believes that Roland is dead. Dad is certain of this because he's never seen Roland in the dreamworld. Baxley has inherited her father's dreamwalking abilities, and she knows that, sooner or later, she will have to take on his job.
Dad has allowed Baxley to grow up ignoring her psychic skills, but now he's not sure he did the right thing, because Baxley is sadly unschooled in using her powers, which (in addition to dream walking) include highly sensitive hearing, the ability to know when a person is lying, and getting psychic sensations from both people and inanimate objects (psychometry). Here, Baxley explains the extent of her talents: "My gifts seem linked together. Hearing is the strongest, but that's accentuated through touch. I can hear more and see more if I touch an object that someone with highly charged emotions handled. Other sensations come through distorted. And I have odd dreams on occasion…" (Gone and Done It, p. 70)
Meanwhile, though, she has to make a living, so she pesters the sheriff to pay her to consult on criminal cases that would benefit from her dream-walking skills. Most of the townspeople in Baxley's age group are former classmates who have known one another all their lives. Unfortunately, some of them demonstrate the very worst of southern good-ole-boy sexist behavior, which Baxley must deal with on a daily basis.
NOVEL 1: Gone and Done It
In this story, Baxley's life is complicated by several obnoxious people, all long-time locals:
Sheriff Wayne Thompson: A life-long womanizer who keeps hitting on Baxley and minimizing her abilities, although he eventually realizes just how valuable her talents are. Wayne's behavior goes way over the sexual harassment line, which turns his character into a repellent creep. I mean, really, the man has a wife and kids, and Baxley knows them all—has known them for years. Late in the story, we learn the supposed reason for Wayne's randiness, but the rationale that is given (in a shocking "reveal" moment) doesn't ring true at all.
Buster Glassman, Carolina's realtor and local lady's man: He wants Baxley to help him out by using her psychic talents to increase his odds of winning in on-line gambling, his addiction of choice.
Duke Quigley (aka DQ, aka Dairy Queen), Carolina's builder: He believes that when Baxley discovered the bodies she cost him his job. Plus, he blames her for the death of one of his snakes.
Charlotte Ambrose, newspaper reporter and Baxley's best friend: Perhaps I shouldn't list Charlotte as "obnoxious," but really, that's how she comes across. Her career is uppermost in her mind at all times, and she doesn't mind leaking sensitive facts or walking over people's personal feelings to get a story, something she keeps trying to do with Baxley. Although she is presented as Baxley's BFF, I didn't like her much at all.
Gail Bergeron, the state archaeologist: This prickly and pretentious woman comes in to take over the investigation of the original set of bones and stays to supervise all of the deaths. She really gives Baxley a hard time every step of the way through the investigation.
One story line that percolates in the background is the one involving the watcher in Baxley's woods. Baxley has seen this mysterious person in shadow and from afar, but never close enough to see his face, although she is sure he is a man. She is also pretty sure that her watcher is actually her husband, Roland. But Roland is supposed to be dead. And if this is Roland, why is he hiding from her? The watcher protects Baxley from harm several times, but he always manages to keep his identity hidden. What's going on here? Although this story line did add some suspense to the story, it also added some dissatisfaction because there is absolutely no resolution (except for the fact that at the very end Baxley discovers that someone else in Marion may have some information about Roland's current status). I'm sure that future books will eventually resolve this mystery.
Another mysterious presence is the unidentified person(s) who leaves food on Baxley's doorstep every day after she takes over her father's position as county dreamwalker. While Dad was the dreamwalker, her parents received the same daily gift. At one point, when Baxley senses that her benefactor is still in the vicinity, she opens up her senses and sees "White light. Lovely, embracing white light." (p. 126)
Although the plot has one or two minor bumps, this turns out to be an engaging, fast-paced story that includes an interesting cast of characters. One oddity is that Baxley's mother appears to be a good cook, but the only thing that she cooks is soup. She is CONSTANTLY putting on a pot of soup—ALL THE TIME—in nearly every chapter. Another bump occurs when Baxley's father turns the dreamwalker job over to her without giving her any training and then criticizes her when she runs into trouble the very first time someone comes to her for dreamwalk assistance. This seemed improbable and quite harsh on her father's part.
Also, the author throws in a few well-worn fiction tropes, like when Baxley suddenly knows just what to say when confronted by a bunch of bad guys in the dreamworld, although no one ever taught her those words. And here's another one: Early on, Baxley sees something significant that she thinks she's seen before, but can't remember where. Although this significant thing keeps reappearing as a "notice me" clue for readers, Baxley herself never seems to notice.
Just one more nitpick: Several references are made to a recent burglary that Baxley solved by identifying the perpetrator as Maisie Ryals. This incident was mentioned so frequently that I thought at first that this was the second book in the series rather than the first. Then I thought perhaps there may have been a prequel novella. But no…I could find neither, so I'm not sure why the author inserted this irrelevant and superfluous bit into the plot.
Other than those minor missteps, this looks to be a solid cozy mystery series and I'm looking forward to learning more about the identities of the watcher and the food gifter. Click HERE to read chapter 1 of Gone and Done It.