Rating: 3.75 stars
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Dead Man & the Army of Frogs reunites us with Denton Mills, a necromancer, and his boyfriend Bran Maurell, an herbalist and witch. The two men have been together about six months and, despite their vastly different personalities, have somehow made a relationship work. The two men work together doing cleansings for businesses and other basic magical and ghostly jobs, but from time to time they get called up for more difficult cases.
This book consists of three episodes or vignettes, short stories that are loosely linked by the larger book plot arc.
In Dinner Ghost, Denton and Bran are visited by Leonard Fenster, a man they met a few days before at a New Year’s Eve party. Leonard had been acting strangely, and it turned out he had been possessed by a demonic spirit that Denton and Bran helped expel. When the guys talk to Leonard further, they learn the location where he picked up the demon is somehow related to the place where a 16-year-old Bran accidentally turned his lover into a frog. Peter has been on Bran’s mind lately as he is full of guilt about what happened and this encounter with Leonard just reinforces his desire to figure out a way to change Peter back to human again, assuming he can ever find him.
In this story we also meet Denton’s best friend and business partner, Joy. Joy is a terrible cook but has invited the men over for dinner. The pair are shocked when they go to Joy’s house to find she has prepared a complex and flawless turkey. As it turns out, she may be getting a little help from a ghost.
This first episode introduces a few elements that continue over the book’s larger story arc. The tale of Joy and the ghost actually builds throughout the entire book and I found it an entertaining little subplot. This first story also introduces the issue of Peter and the frogs, the primary thread that runs through the book. There is a lot going on here. We see Bran’s guilt for what he did as a teen and Denton’s jealousy for what he perceives as Bran’s interest in Peter. Denton is also hallucinating frogs all over, something he believes is connected to Bran’s obsession with finding and helping Peter. We also get the first clues as to how Bran may be able to solve the problem and help Peter.
I do think this vignette suffered a bit from not really having a discreet sub-story. These ideas are introduced, and then the episode ends fairly abruptly. I was sort of caught off guard to suddenly have this story end and a new one begin without any real wrap up to anything that was started here. I also will mention that Harper has a free short story called Dead Man & the Lustful Spirit that tells the tale of New Year’s Eve and Bran and Denton’s initial interaction with Leonard and his possession. By the time this book starts, we are in the aftermath of that event and it is not discussed in detail. I just happened to see that free short by luck and read it before starting this, having no idea they are related. Without reading that story, however, I think I would have felt very confused about Leonard’s subplot here in this book. I am not sure why Harper chose to tell that tale in a separate story but I’d definitely recommend picking it up before reading this book.
Spirit Talker was my favorite of the three sections and I found the main plot fascinating and sort of horrifying at once. Denton finds a woman passed out with a malevolent spirit hovering over her. He manages to keep her alive until help arrives and afterwards finds himself worried about just what it was that was trying to harm her. When he goes to Lyn Gorman’s house to meet her, he finds that same spirit not just hovering around her, but around her young son as well. Denton knows the spirit is out to hurt them, and he and Bran are determined to help the Lyn before it does permanent harm.
As I said, this was my favorite of the three episodes. In part I think it worked well because the story is very self contained. We do revisit Joy and her kitchen ghost, as well as deal with the frogs, but the main mystery here stands alone nicely. The tale is clever and unfolds in a fascinating (and kind of terrifying) way that kept me really engrossed.
In Frog Day Afternoon, Denton and Bran get another case, this time from a woman who believes her recently departed mother is haunting her brother. The men also are summoned by the Old Crone, a sort of magical enforcer who wants to find out more about what is going on with them and the frogs. Getting called before her is a big deal, and kind of spurs on Bran’s efforts to resolve the Peter problem.
Most of this episode ties up the loose ends from the rest of the book. We get resolution on the issue with Joy and her ghost. The men finally also solve the Peter problem. So I definitely enjoyed seeing these two plots pull together. The story of the ghostly mother fell a little flatter to me. It was over and done with pretty fast and didn’t seem to really tie in so much with the rest of the plots. But overall I felt like this last installment does a nice job of bringing things to a close an tying up the various threads.
On a larger scale, I continue to like Denton and Bran as I am a big fan of opposites attract stories and these guys are about as different as they come. I kind of like Bran who is stiff and awkward most of the time, but hot and fiery when he and Denton are intimate. I like the hidden heat buried under his stiff exterior. Bran’s combination witch and demon heritage and Denton’s ability to talk to ghosts makes for two really interesting characters and lots of possibilities between them.
Harper has a lot of talent for books with this episodic style and I really find myself drawn to this format. It makes for crisp stories that get to the heart of things. She does a great job carrying themes throughout her the larger book while still creating distinct shorter stories. I don’t think this second book captivated me quite as much as the first in the series, Dead Man & the Restless Spirits, but I still continue to like these guys and enjoy this series.