Charlie and Rose are back. Beautifully Bizarre. Engaging. Thought Provoking. Compassionate. Exciting. Classic Noir told in Jo Perry’s unique style.
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Dead is Best sees Jo Perry return to the wonderful world of Charlie and Rose. Wonderful might not be the best word to use thinking about it, after all they are dead. It is an appropriate word to describe the book though, the snappy writing, the provocative content of the story, the fast paced and exciting nature of the adventure and the unique approach Jo takes to telling her tales.
For those not familiar, Charlie is a dead guy. Rose is a dead dog. The circumstances of their deaths are a key element of the first book in the series Dead is Better (see my review for that one here), they wonder the after life together as observers. Often frustrated that they are largely unable to influence events in the world of the living and in the case of this story protect a loved one.
We follow the story of Cali, Charlie’s step daughter from one of many failed marriages. A troubled teen from a wealthy family, with all the privileges that implies. Cali is unconscious the first time we meet her, and although she does wake up things don’t really improve for her. In telling a story such as this Jo challenges pre-conceptions around how life can impact on teenagers, there is no “what’s she got to be miserable about, she’s rich enough” element to the tale, rather that view is challenged and we are shown that neglectful parents cause problems no matter their life situation, in the same way through the character of Gloria we see that a loving attitude to life has positive impacts regardless of background. It’s how you approach life that matters, not how much money you have. Sadly, a lesson that Charlie only really learnt in death, his regret at this drives him to follow Cali as her situation escalates and to try and help her as she is sent to a wilderness school for troubled teens. I won’t go into too much detail but the sequence that sees Cali taken against her will is uneasy but essential reading. Jo has a particular talent for bringing scenes to life in such a relatable way that you genuinely feel the fear, pain and frustration of the characters.
Charlie’s approach to death reminds us to live our lives and to try and avoid regret and hate, to not hold grudges, you never know how long you’ll have. By the end of the story he is even beginning to forgive his ex-wife Elaine. Her conclusion is as compelling as Cali’s, as the veneer she has carefully built slips away to reveal a far more relatable person underneath.
It occurs, I haven’t really mentioned Rose yet. Don’t let that lead you to thinking she isn’t an essential part of this. Whilst this is less her story than Dead is Better was, her role as Charlie’s conscience is still central to the novels success. Rose guides Charlie, keeps him honest, ultimately you will be left questioning who really influenced Cali’s situation for the better. Was it Charlie? Or was it Rose showing him the way? I’ll leave you to make your own mind up.
Some may feel these books are a bit on the weird side, with the short chapters, clipped style and myriad quotes about death. For me, these elements are a part of what make them unique and gripping. Intensely readable, essential fiction that challenges you to think and reflect, whilst still being definitive modern noir. Book three, Dead is Good, is on my TBR pile, I don’t think it will be there long.