Rating: 4 stars
Buy Link:
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Length: Novel

 

Being the son of the undertaker made life hard enough for Keir Dearly. When he had his first encounter with a departed spirit at fifteen years of age, he was determined to keep mum about it. Keir did not want his parents to worry about him or his classmates to have more of a reason to tease and taunt him. Now, twenty-five years later, Keir is the undertaker for the family business. With his mother newly retired and enjoying her free time, Keir has developed a habit of communing with the spirits of the dead. Well, at least the ones who show up and have a thing or two to say about sartorial choices and funerary decorations. Mostly, Keir just wants to give the living and the dead the most dignified, comforting service. Then, Daniel Clegg crosses his table, looking like a lowlife and confirming it by demanding Keir take action to save Daniel’s brother from being accused of the many nefarious dealings Daniel engaged in that literally left him dead.

Burying his parents was hard on Dashiell “Dash” Clegg, especially without the support of his brother, Daniel. Dash hoped that one day Daniel would get over his superiority complex enough to bury the hatchet. Too bad the day for burying Daniel himself came first. As if the death of his last family member weren’t enough, Detectives Ramon Torres and Jay Frick are convinced that Dash is responsible. With a criminal record, no alibi, and an eye-witness account of Dash at the scene of the crime, Dash knows he’ll have a hard time convincing the police to actually do an investigation. Except Dash didn’t do it. And he finds support in the most unlikeliest of places: the undertaker at Dearly & Son Funeral Home. There’s just something about how effortlessly sympathetic Keir Dearly is; it also doesn’t hurt that the man is sex on legs. Even with Keir’s help, there is only so much time Dash has to piece together what really happened to his brother. When another person from Daniel’s circle of friends ends up dead, the pressure for Dash to prove his innocence goes through the roof.

Dearly & Deviant Daniel is the first installment in L.A. Kaye’s series Dearly and the Departed. As the title suggests, the deceased play a significant role in the story. Not only is Keir an undertaker, he can actually see and interact with some of the dead. To clear up any potential confusion, the action of this story is driven by what the deceased Daniel got up to while he was alive. It’s what brings Kier and Dash together and serves as the framework around which a suspense/thriller story is built. Based on the phrasing in the title, I kept wondering if somehow Daniel would start to figure in as a romantic something. It took me a long time to fully set that notion aside, but eventually I got there. It helped me to know that this book is the first in a series. While there are some common sense world building elements that help explain what makes Keir special (like where and when he can talk to the dead), there was some heavy foreshadowing of things to come in future books (like Keir’s long-deceased grandfather mentioning an encroaching evil).

Kaye switches between Keir and Dash’s points of view while still avoiding absolute, one-for-one style alternating. I think Kaye did an absolute bang-up job differentiating these two characters’ voices. Not only do others perceive Keir as a profoundly kind man whose first priority is the dignity of the departed, but that same sense of sweet steadfastness abounds in his narrative voice. That is not to say that Keir is a pushover, but it’s clear that with a degree of age, this man of forty years has grown into a thoughtful, caring adult. For me, that made it all the sweeter that he finds happiness with Dash, a man ten years his junior and mostly unpolished. When we switch to Dash, his outer roughness is captured by his effusive use of curse words and not pulling any verbal punches. I enjoyed the sharp contrast and appreciated how it tacitly reinforced the opposites-attract trope between Keir and Dash.

I think the romance element got off to a promising start. Keir and Dash are not quite thrown at one another’s heads. The revelation that Dash privately thinks Keir is both sexy and out of Dash’s league added a nice bit of angsty unrequited feelings. Similarly, Keir finds Dash easy on the eyes and very ready to set aside Dash’s past criminal conviction. Despite his interest, Keir writes himself off as too old for a vibrant bad boy and his conscious mind tries very hard to convince Keir that even entertaining the idea of romancing someone who’s actively (if wrongfully as Keir believes) being investigated by the police is wrong.

That said, the romance itself doesn’t have much flow. There was potential for a slow burn or for an instalove get together. Instead, these two seem to fall into a tug-of-war where their hearts are concerned. For example,

Spoiler title
Keir goes out on a limb to help Dash get out of town before the police have time to restrict Dash’s movement.
What ensues is a weekend of passion with lots of physical connection and inner monologuing about how much the one means to the other. But then they run into conflict and Dash’s response is to shut Keir out. In the face of Dash’s silent treatment, Keir decides he could be a free agent. And that “he loves me, he loves me not” dynamic is pretty sustained throughout the book. It was not my cup of tea.

Overall, I thought this was a pretty good read. Keir and several other characters carry the paranormal threads of the story very well. These themes in the book are also the ones that will carry through the series as Keir finally starts to learn the details about how and why he (and his forefathers) can see and speak to the dead. Kaye has done a respectable job building some of the meta themes for the series through the paranormal themes. Also, the way the romance between Keir and Dash develops might really appeal to readers who enjoy depictions of tumultuous relationships and, if nothing else, contains a lot of spice and a happy-for-now resolution. The whole police investigation against Dash forms solid bookends for the drama in this installment. The details of the case and the slow discovery of who did what to whom and when and how felt a bit messy, but I was just happy the case came to a resolution so Keir and Dash would finally move beyond the false murder accusation leveled against Dash. If you’re into ghost stories and especially stories where there’s a definite conduit between the land of the living and the realm of the dead, then I think you’ll enjoy Dearly & Deviant Daniel.

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