This week Morgan and Whitney dive into the first Revivalist novel Working Stiff by Rachel Caine. This new release has corporate spies, zombies and Bryn Davis, an ex-military veteran who has just inherited, and we use that word losely, a funeral home.
Morgan: I can say without a doubt that Bryn Davis is the first ex-military, dead, funeral director heroine I have ever read about.
Whitney: She’s definitely not your average romance heroine. And she is just as surprised by her new life as we are. Working Stiff starts with her first day of being a funeral director and just looks what happens. There’s awful customers, a girl who commits suicide in the bathroom, a creepy perv who hits on her, and oh yeah — she gets killed and then reanimated!
Morgan: Oh yeah, that teeny detail.
Whitney: And to add insult to injury it is the evil — and totally skeevie — mortician Fast Freddy who takes her out.
Morgan: At the command of Fairview Mortuary owner Mr. Fairview, who had seemed so nice all day!
Whitney: But we don’t have to worry about Mr. Fairview for very long. Right after ordering Bryn’s death, he is killed by an explosion.
Morgan: I can’t feel sorry for Fairview. He had been peddling a reanimation drug called Returné to grieving families. Not the most clever name in the world, Returné brings back the recently deceased. But only if you take an injection once a day.
Whitney: Pharmadene is none too happy that their secret drug is being circulated, so they are the ones who set out to shut down Fairview’s operation.
Morgan: And in the process decide to bring our life-challenged heroine back to the land of the living ... sort of.
Whitey: It is not exactly company policy to reanimate those caught in the crossfire, but Patrick and Joe, two corporate security agents from Pharmadene, make the executive decision.
Morgan: Joe because he feels sorry he let Bryn die.
Whitney: And Patrick because … well, he doesn’t exactly know why he does it.
Morgan: Joe and Patrick save her, but they still don’t know who is leaking the drug, so they decide to set Bryn up as the new mortuary owner so she can help them track down the illegal supplier.
Whitney: I feel like there’s a joke in here somewhere, like instant soup, this is instant inheritance — cup’o’heritance!
Morgan: Let me tell you -- Fairview Mortuary would be the last inheritance I would want. I mean they embalm people in there.
Whitney: And Caine certainly doesn’t skimp on the details of the funeral home. I really liked that I could see the whole story in my head as I was reading along. Particularly in the descriptions of the “preparation (never call it “prep”) room”.
Morgan: It made me feel like she’d totally done her research. I wonder what that research was like … I’ve got this great image in my head of her skulking around funeral parlors to really get the feel of them.
Whitney: Well I doubt she got her details by skulking, but I’d be she interviewed funeral directors, morticians, corners ...
Morgan: The author has interesting things to say about people who work in the industry. Early on in the story Bryn introduces this concept that everyone who works in undertaking industry is either a “true believer” or a freak. Even though she never really defined what true believers were, she pretty quickly self identifies as one.
Whitney: There are whole passages in Working Stiff about Bryn’s reflections on death. She talks about how everyone dies, it is the only constant. Which is actually comforting to her.
Morgan: Well it just plain creeped me out. But with Bryn’s background she really handles it well.
Whitney: As a soldier in Iraq, Bryn saw her share of dead bodies. I really liked that she was a war veteran and that it wasn’t just a throwaway line at the start of the book.
Morgan: Agreed, she definitely relies on her military training. She went into the service after high school so she literally became an adult while serving in Iraq. It only makes sense that she would reference this a lot.
Whitney: But I have to say I was a bit disappointed because it was like the military taught her nothing in terms of the fighting that she does after she gets killed. There are several instances when she gets re-killed/beat up by bad guys.
Morgan: For me this made the story really real. Just because you have military training doesn’t mean you are going to always come out on top (no offense, Dish readers with a military background!). So yes, she is taken by surprise and killed, after she becomes part of the living undead, she shows off some pretty awesome skills with a gun.
Whitney: You are right, because she’s not such a superwoman, Bryn is much more of an accessible heroine than many of the women in urban fantasy are. I think she’s also relatable because she’s so personable, and even when she’s undead she still enjoys feminine things, like wearing pink — a lot.
Morgan: And I think readers will be able to relate to the fact that she’s got “real people problems” like the fact that she feels self conscious about her work wardrobe and her cheap shoes from Payless, but she can’t afford anything else
Whitney: Also her life is not bleak and miserable like many urban fantasy heroines’ are. Instead she’s got a family where she’s “the golden girl” and she’s never alone because she lives with her adorable bulldog Mr. French.
Morgan: But things aren’t perfect either, remember she is a zombie now.
Whitney: But a really interesting zombie. Its not like she goes around eating brains or anything. She is essentially the same person, but just being kept “alive” by nanobots, which require daily shots of Returné.
Morgan: Yeah, without the serum from Pat and Joe, Bryn would be dead...er.
Whitney: So we already know that these two guys are involved in corporate espionage, but let’s dig in a little bit more because I want to give these dudes their due.
Morgan: Well Pat’s the boss, and he brings on Joe to help out as he tries to shut down Pharmadene (and by extension Returné).
Whitney: You know, I thought that Joe was way scarier than Pat because Joe seems so normal. He’s a totally loving family man with a very healthy relationship with his wife and several rambunctious kids but then he deals with a company that has created zombies.
Morgan: It’s like he’s super normal, but then he turns out to be a super spy!
Whitney: More of a super spy than Pat? Patrick McCallister definitely has the whole Bruce Wayne thing going on.
Morgan: I think my favorite moment is when Bryn realizes that this man isn’t just well-off, he’s got money, like m-o-n-e-y, money and Bryn kind of freaks out …
I made this man sleep on my ratty old Sears couch, she thought. Covered with a Wal-Mart blanket. In my six-hundred-a-month apartment. I made him eat peanut butter and crackers off of paper plates.
And he smiled at me.
Whitney: But he doesn’t act rich — he works for a living.
Morgan: Well if you want to call living in a huge mansion with servants “not acting rich”. I’d like to point out that there’s a theme with millionaires in romances — they tend to be reclusive, handsome, intelligent, strong. Yawn. Now me, I’m holding out for a millionaire that’s paunchy, balding and has bad breath.
Whitney: But who would want to read about that? No give me the Pat-the-hottie any day. The money just adds another problem standing in the way of Pat and Bryn’s romance.
Morgan: You know what they say the course of true love ... yada, yada.
Whitney: There is a big difference between a relationship not running smoothly and your significant other being dead.
Morgan: Which is why readers will have to run out and get this book to read for themselves!
If you've already read Working Stiff let us know what you thought in the comments below. And in order to read along with us for next week's Dish, pick up a copy of Caridad Pinero's new romantic suspense e-book from Carina Press, The Fifth Kingdom.