Sunday, August 14, 2011

Calling the Dead by Ali Vali

Publisher:                Bold Strokes Books

How bad would your life have to be for you to find that chasing a serial killer is a welcome distraction? Detective Sept Savoie finds herself in that position. Hurricane Katrina didn't just cause physical damage in New Orleans, but left psychological scars on all of the people who were there. Sept got her unusual name because she was the seventh child in the family, but now there are only six. The flood waters took her beloved sister and her young niece and the family is struggling to recover from the loss. Her brother-in-law is walking a thin edge of sanity and Sept tries to cope with the stresses by devoting herself to the family business, being a top police officer.

The first body that turns up outside of a restaurant seems to be a routine murder and the logical suspect is the restaurant owner, Keegan Blanchard. The Blanchards are an old New Orleans family represented in the current generations by very feisty, independent women. That guarantees an immediate clash between Sept and Keegan that quickly grows into an attraction as more bodies turn up and it becomes clear that the serial killer who is on the loose isn't Keegan. 

As the crimes unfold, ritual overtones of voodoo and Santeria begin to emerge and the killer switches from random killing to waging a personal attack on Sept. She begins to worry that her growing relationship with Keegan could be dangerous to the Blanchard family, especially when the evidence indicates the killer might be someone close to her. The authorities expect Sept to rescue the city from this horror, which she tries desperately to do while holding her family together and protecting Keegan from being swept into the madness.

Ali Vali uses New Orleans as a character in Calling the Dead. The unique culture sets the mood of the book in a way that could only occur in this city. As a survivor of Katrina, Vali is able to capture the brooding overtones of the city and evoke the destruction that was created in the people's lives. Some of the most interesting parts of the book are the descriptions of what happened to the people during the flooding and to the city in the aftermath. 

Vali also takes you into the twisted mind of the killer so that the reader can understand what is motivating him even while sharing the horror of what he is doing. The character development in the book is especially strong and there are supporting cast members who contribute as much to the tone of the book as the main characters. The feel of this book is very compelling and contributes to it being a very satisfying reading experience.

The nightmare that was Katrina had a residual effect of creating a powerful storytelling voice in Vali. Always an accomplished writer, the books she has set in this environment have been particularly strong and demonstrate her ability to pull a reader into a story. Calling the Dead is one of those books that the reader doesn't want to end and presents characters that would be worth using in another story. This one goes into the "keeper" category.

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