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Play Dead    by Anne Frasier order for
Play Dead
by Anne Frasier
Order:  USA  Can
Onyx, 2004 (2004)
* * *   Reviewed by Martina Bexte

Homicide detective Elise Sandburg would be the first to admit that her rather colorful background is sometimes detrimental to her career. As an infant she was abandoned in an old cemetery, reason unknown. She's also said to be the daughter of a famous 'root doctor' who came to an untimely and mysterious end.

Elise's background and knowledge of the 'Gullah' culture (which incorporates voodoo spell casting) make her the perfect choice to investigate a current string of homicides. The killer uses 'tetrodotoxin' (a derivative of the poison found in the deadly puffer fish), to turn his victims into 'zombies'. Though the substance mimics death, the victim's mind remains fully aware. Most victims have been buried alive, and the latest twitched back to life moments before the coroner was to start an autopsy. Savannah is a city that harbors its share of the superstitious, and as the body counts rises, citizens get caught up in the lurid daily headlines. Half the populace are terrified that they'll become the next zombie, while the other half cash in on the craze.

It's up to Elise and her new partner, David Gould, to make sense of the killings. Elise decides to track down a college professor, said to be an expert on tetrodotoxin, but the encounter almost costs the detective her life. The next lead is mysterious voodoo priestess, Strata Luna, who supposedly had a connection to each of the victims. The reclusive Strata Luna eventually agrees to talk to Elise, only because she's the daughter of the man the priestess once loved. Despite Strata Luna's evasiveness, Elise senses she's finally on the right trail. But after the killer raises the stakes by poisoning David, it becomes a race against time to find him before he becomes the next victim to experience his own death.

Meaty characterizations, stellar writing, great pacing and a dark atmosphere that starts in the very first scene, make this a must read, particularly for those who appreciate stories laced with a liberal dash of the macabre. Elise and David make an interesting and odd pairing, especially since David is trying to come to terms with dark demons from his own past. The city of Savannah, and some of the history Frasier presents, add even more creepiness to the overall tone. It's always a thrill when a casual book browse nets a new author - Anne Frasier's name has been added to my reading list in bold block letters. Play Dead is a gripping page turner, a story you won't soon forget.

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