The Dead Woman (The Dead Man #4)
by David McAfee
Adventures in Television, Inc. (June 2011)
Available via: Amazon
Things are really starting to take shape in The Dead Man series. After reading the first three books (Face of Evil, Ring of Knives, and Hell in Heaven), The Dead Woman feels like the point where the rules of this world have been firmly established and now its time to throw a change-up. We know Matthew Cahill, the man with the ax who came back from the dead with the ability to see the evil festering in people, and we know he's after Mr. Dark, the menacing entity tormenting him and outmaneuvering Matthew in each encounter. But, a series like this can't last long if that's all it is. Enter the dead woman.
Matthew Cahill winds up in the small town of Crawford, Tennessee, which I believe is the furthest he's gone from his former home in California so far, where this whole series began. He's tracking Mr. Dark and figures he's on the right track when, almost as soon as he arrives and goes to the local McDonald's, he hears news of a serial killer terrorizes the area. He's basically broke though, so before he can move on, he takes a job helping an attractive antique shop owner named Abbey in need of a brawny assistant. That leads him to meeting an ill-tempered cop named Dale, who has a past with Abbey.
It's actually Abbey's past that plays a focal point in this novella. She's the dead woman. A person, just like Matt, able to see the rot and decay on the faces of those under the spell of Mr. Dark. And she's had that ability ever since she herself died, decades ago. She looks good for her age though--really good. So Matt gets lucky with Abbey, very unlucky with Dale, and even unluckier with the Blake County Killer.
I really liked this episode in Cahill's journey, but the relationship he has with his grandfather's trusty ax feels now like Thor's hammer. When he doesn't have it, and there comes a point in this story when he's forced to contend with the Blake County Killer without it, he is a mere mortal. That aspect might be a bit too cheesy for some, and I'm probably playing it up more than it actually is, but I think it works for the episodic nature of this series. Part of the ending comes off a bit pat, but there are a couple of good teasers for future encounters in upcoming Dead Man stories that I'm looking forward to reading.
I think The Dead Woman marks the point in the series that new readers will need to go back and read the series from the beginning. If the series creators, Lee Goldberg and William Rabkin, are figuring to put together an omnibus of this series down the line, it'll be a prime product for readers late to jump on the bandwagon.