Living With the Dead by Kelley Armstrong

October 10, 2009 at 5:49 pm (fantasy, fiction, novels, urban fantasy)

Living with the Dead is the ninth book in Kelley Armstrong’s wildly popular Women of the Otherworld series. In it, we’re introduced to Robyn Peltier, a recently widowed public relations consultant still trying to come to terms with her husband’s senseless death. Luckily, keeping her demanding boss, “celebutante” Portia Kane, out of the tabloids is a great distraction. But when Portia is murdered police zero in on Robyn as their primary suspect. With the help of her best friend, tabloid reporter Hope Adams, Robyn must track down the real killer and clear her name.

Readers of Armstrong’s Women of the Otherworld books expect certain things from the series. For one, they expect the books to be written in first person and told from the point of view of a single character. They expect the story to be told by one of “the good guys.” They also expect a developing romance to play a key role in the story.

In Living with the Dead Armstrong tosses reader expectations to the wind. Rather than tell the story in first person, she tells it in third. And instead of telling the story from the point of view of a single character she rotates between six characters. That’s right, you heard me.

Living With the DeadI don’t have any problem with third person in general, but it bothered me in this case because it stood in such stark contrast to the other books in the series. The structure of the previous books are all so similar a reader can pick up any one of them and immediately recognize it as part of the Women of the Otherworld series. Not so with Living with the Dead. Writing this book in the third person is such an unexpected deviation it’s difficult for a tried and true fan to get lost in the story.

Likewise, I don’t generally mind stories told through multiple narrators. I loved the eighth book in the series, Personal Demon, which is narrated by Hope Adams and Lucas Cortez. But, in the case of Living With the Dead, shifting the focus between six different characters does nothing to enrich the narrative. The chapters are short and Armstrong shifts point of view from chapter to chapter. So, we follow Hope for one chapter, then Robyn for the next, and Adele for the one after. The reader is never allowed to stay with any one character long enough to get to know him or her. As a result it’s hard to care about any of them.

The shifting point of view enables the reader to view some scenes through the eyes of more than one character. Unfortunately, having to read the same scene more than once slows the pace and rarely provides any new information or perspective.

Two of the four rotating points of view belong to the villains. Readers know right from the get go what motivates them to commit the crime Robyn is later accused of, and get to follow them as they run from the law. The problem with incorporating the POV of the villains in a thriller is that it kills the mystery. Half the fun of reading a mystery is trying to puzzle out the who, what, and why of a crime along with the heroes. While it is possible to write from the POV of a villain without spoiling that fun, Armstrong simply can’t pull off that gentle balancing act. Within the first few pages we know why Adele and Colm do what they do, and that makes watching Hope, Robyn, Karl and the rest of the crew figure it out something of a bore.

Armstrong has been writing this series for five years. I can understand her desire to shake things up a bit by trying something new, but the risk just doesn’t pay off. Overloaded with characters it’s virtually impossible to become emotionally invested in, Living With the Dead is out of synch with the rest of the books in the series. Devoted fans should not expect fireworks out of this one, and new readers would be better served by starting out with one of the previous books in the series.

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3 Comments

  1. Jamye said,

    I haven’t read any of this series yet. Are the other ones pretty good? Thanks for the review!

    • iread said,

      Oh, I love this series. The first book, “Bitten,” was one of the best books I read last year. We’re talking top five.

      Some of the books are better than others, and some of the narrators are more interesting than others, but that’s to be expected in an ongoing series. Overall I think it’s pretty awesome as far as urban fantasy goes. “Living With the Dead” was probably the first book in the series that I really didn’t like. And, hey, that’s only one out of nine! Pretty good odds the tenth book is going to be worth my time.

      “Bitten” is a fantastic book. I highly recommend picking it up even if you don’t read the rest of the series. But, if you like “Bitten” it’s worth your wild to give the first few books in the series a shot.

      • Jamye said,

        Wow, top five! Ok you sold me, it’s going on my wishlist this instant. 🙂

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