Deader Still (Simon Canderous Series #2)by Anton Strout
FROM THE AUTHOR OF DEAD TO ME.
View our feature on Anton Strout’s Deader Still.
It’s been 737 days since the Department of Extraordinary Affairs’ last vampire incursion, but that streak appears to have ended when a boat full of dead lawyers is found in/b>/i>/b>
It’s hard to defeat evil on a budget. Just ask Simon Canderous.
FROM THE AUTHOR OF DEAD TO ME.
View our feature on Anton Strout’s Deader Still.
It’s been 737 days since the Department of Extraordinary Affairs’ last vampire incursion, but that streak appears to have ended when a boat full of dead lawyers is found in the Hudson River. Using the power of psychometry—the ability to divine the history of an object by touching it—agent Simon Canderous discovers that the booze cruise was crashed by something that sucked all the blood out of the litigators. Now, his workday may never end—until his life does.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
DEAD TO ME
“Simon Canderous is a reformed thief and a psychometrist. By turns despondent over his luck with the ladies (not always living) and his struggle with the hierarchy of his mysterious department (not always truthful), Simon’s life veers from crisis to crisis. Following Simon’s adventures is like being the pinball in an especially antic game, but it’s well worth the wear and tear.”
—Charlaine Harris, New York Times bestselling author of From Dead to Worse
“Part Ghostbusters, part Men in Black, Strout’s debut is both dark and funny, with quirky characters, an eminently likable protagonist, and the comfortable, familiar voice of a close friend. His mix of (mostly) secret bureaucratic bickering and offbeat action shows New York like we’ve never seen it before. Make room on the shelf, ’cause you’re going to want to keep this one!”
—Rachel Vincent, author of Stray and Rogue
“Urban fantasy with a wink and a nod. Anton Strout has written a good-hearted send-up of the urban-fantasy genre. Dead to Me is a genuinely fun book with a fresh and firmly tongue-in-cheek take on the idea of paranormal police. The laughs are frequent, as are the wry smiles. I’m looking forward to seeing what he does next.”
—Kelly McCullough, author of CodeSpell
“Written with equal parts humor and horror. Strout creates an engaging character . . . clever, fast paced, and a refreshing change in the genre of urban fantasy.”
“In much the same vein as Mark Del Franco’s Unquiet Dreams or John Levitt’s Dog Days, Strout’s urban-fantasy debut features plenty of self-deprecating humor, problematic special powers, and a quick pace, with the added twist of overwhelming government bureaucracy. Strout’s inventive story line raises the genre’s bar with his collection of oddly mismatched, entertaining characters and not-so-secret organizations.”
—Monsters and Critics
“Imagine if Harry Dresden or Angel had to work in a poorly run office dealing with office politics and red tape. It’s a great debut.”
—Cameron Hughes, CHUD.com
“A wickedly weird debut from a writer who makes being dead sexier than it’s ever been before. And who doesn’t love a debonair divination-having, ghost-seducing, cultist-abusing detective in New York? Imagine Law & Order but with hot ghostly chicks, rampaging bookcases, and a laugh track.”
—Carolyn Turgeon, author of Rain Village
“A strong debut . . . Seeing the world through Simon’s eyes is a funny, quirky, and occasionally scary experience. Strout’s world will be well worth revisiting.”
Ace Books by Anton Strout
DEAD TO ME
THE BERKLEY PUBLISHING GROUP
Published by the Penguin Group
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Penguin Books Ltd., Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content.
An Ace Book / published by arrangement with the author
Ace mass-market edition / March 2009
Copyright © 2009 by Anton Strout.
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission. Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the author’s rights. Purchase only authorized editions.
For information, address: The Berkley Publishing Group,
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375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014.
eISBN : 978-1-101-01450-9
Ace Books are published by The Berkley Publishing Group,
a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.,
375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014.
ACE and the “A” design are trademarks of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
For Donna Marie Strout,
whose sense of humor lives on through me
First and foremost, this book is to you, my readerly little friends. Perhaps you’ve just picked me up for the first time. Maybe you are part of the Undead Approved, who have already read Dead to Me. Whatever way you came to this book, thanks for being here. The adventures of Simon Canderous are nothing without you, and for that you have my sincere and deepest appreciation. Welcome aboard; thanks for joining us. Tell your friends. Say hi to your mother for me.
As for the rest of my hive of scum and villainy? It’s time to thank them. Hold your applause to the end, please. My personal kudos are extended to: my wife, Orly, whose patience and love are infinite; my family—those by blood and those by association; Jessica Wade, the editor whose verbosity makes my inanity palatable; superagent Kristine Dahl and Laura Neely at ICM, who put up with my authorly neuroses; copy editor Jessica McDonnell; Annette Fiore DeFex, Judith Murello, and Don Sipley, for another amazing cover; Michelle Kasper; the Dorks of the Round Table—authors Jeanine Cummins and Carolyn Turgeon—for taking time to bruise their eyes on the first draft of this book (support their books, too!); beta reader and cheer-leader Missy Sawmiller; beta reader and glamazon Lisa Trevethan; Patrick Rothfuss, my arch nemesis and author of The Name of the Wind, who graciously took the time to read a wee baby draft of the manuscript; and the fans, whose snowball effect keeps people coming to the series.
And finally, a special shout-out to all of the various departments at Penguin Group (USA) Inc. that make this book look as pretty as it does, especially my friends and colleagues in the paperback sales department who keep me humble and—more importantly—on bookshelves everywhere. Your names are legion, for you are many.
Revenge is a dish best served . . . erk!
—Anonymous quote found in the Gauntlet archives attributed to a long-deceased member of the Fraternal Order of Goodness
“Watch out for the elves, Simon,” Connor Christos said, tugging at my arm. And since I had come to trust my partner in Other Division, I didn’t resist.
He pulled me to my left, allowing me to narrowly avoid two “elves.” One wore glasses with black Buddy Holly frames, and the other couldn’t have been more than five feet tall.
“Lothlorien sure ain’t making ’em like they used to,” I said.
“Welcome to New York Comic Con, kid.”
“Nerdtacular,” I said. All walks of life crowded the hangarlike convention hall. The giant glass structure of the Javits Center on Manhattan’s west side looked like it had been conjured straight out of a futuristic fantasy world.
“Would you rather be back at our desks at the Department of Extraordinary Affairs?” Connor asked.
“Lower your voice,” I said, looking around.
“Relax,” Connor said. “We’re the most normal-looking guys in here.”
Connor looked like the older and stranger of the two of us, with a white stripe running through his messy mop of sandy brown hair. His Bogart-style trench coat hid his rugged frame, but even that had been no match for the ghost who had streaked his hair. Comparatively, I was the picture of youth, with my own hair black, through and through, still untouched by ghostly harm. Even my knee-length black leather coat was more fashionable, and did double duty—both hiding my retractable bat and paying homage to the one the do-gooder vampire Angel always wore on television.
“Even so,” I said, “I’d prefer it if you kept it down about the D.E.A.”
Connor shook his head. “No one here’s even going to bat an eye at our supersecret government agency.” He cupped his hand over his mouth and shouted, “Paranormal investigators in the house!”
Very few people turned to look at us. A few woots rose out of the crowd, and when I turned to look we were being cheered on by a group of guys dressed as Ghostbusters, pumping the business ends of their proton packs in the air.
“See?” he said. “Now don’t tell me you’d rather be in the office . . .”
I thought of the pile of paperwork waiting for me—ghost sightings, zombie infestations, demons rollicking through hipster bars out in Williamsburg, the usual.
“Actually, this freak show is looking pretty good to me right now.” I held up my writing hand and flexed it, hearing it pop and crack as I did so. “Besides, if I have to fill out another form in triplicate, I think my hand will fall off. And not in the cool, zombie-rotting way, either . . .”
Connor shook his head. “Less than a year in the Department, and you’re already burned out on the red tape, huh?” He pointed at the crowd before us. “Then this place should take your mind off of all that for a bit. You’ve got every type of geekdom out here in full force. Your fans of everything come out for this one, dressed to the nines: superheroes, elves, robots, Jedis, Trekkies. Pirates are really big this year.”
“Great,” I said. “That should help me stay focused today.”
“Just relax,” he said. “Every agent’s been put through the Oubliette.”
“And passed it?”
“Well,” Connor said, pausing. “No . . .”
“I don’t want that to be me,” I said, feeling my nerves rising. I’d joined the New York Department of Extraordinary Affairs seven months ago. I was blessed (or cursed) with psychometry, the ability to touch an object and divine information about its past, so getting the job had turned a power that had ruined many a relationship and been a major burden into a highlight of my résumé. Connor had been assigned as my mentor for these past few months, and I appreciated that, but I wanted to pass the Oubliette and earn my stripes as his full-fledged partner. “I don’t want to wait another year to retake the test if I fail it.”
“Relax,” Connor repeated. “You’ll do fine.”
“Easy to say for someone who passed it years ago and actually got to test on the Oubliette the Department owns.”
“Owned,” Connor corrected. “With the budget cuts down at City Hall, I don’t think the Department’s going to be able to afford to fix it. And trust me, from what I’ve heard, you definitely don’t want to be going into that Oubliette. Something’s living in it now. I don’t know exactly what, but Inspectre Quimbley said it was quite unsavory.”
“Well, who am I to argue with the director of Other Division?”
“And don’t forget he’s your superior in the Fraternal Order of Goodness,” Connor added. “Not that I’m part of your precious little organization.”
I noted the hint of bitterness in Connor’s voice.
“Hey,” I said. “I was just as surprised as you were when I got their letter adopting me into their ranks. Their initiation felt like a cross between a toga party and the Skull and Bones society.”
Connor started playing the world’s tiniest violin between his fingers, so I decided it was best to avoid the subject even though it had only happened a few short months ago. It was like being in high school all over again, except I was in all the advanced-placement classes now. F.O.G. wasn’t technically part of the official New York government function of the D.E.A. anyway. I didn’t even fully understand where the line between the two was drawn, but I knew that the Fraternal Order of Goodness predated the Department by several hundred years and functioned more like the Freemasons, only they didn’t seem to issue cool swords. However, they did have resources the Department didn’t have, and they weren’t bogged down by nearly as much red tape.
“Still,” I said, trying to steer the conversation back to why we had come to Comic Con. “I wouldn’t normally think of a comic book convention as a place to rent a magical Oubliette.”
Connor shrugged. “But here we are. You’d be surprised at what can pass unnoticed in an environment like this. You ready to go all MacGyver?”
“You know,” Connor said. “You ready to improvise on whatever harsh battle conditions the Oubliette decides to put you through?”
I shrugged. “As ready as I can be. I’ve studied as much as I could over at Tome, Sweet Tome.”
“Oh, so Jane helped?” Connor asked. At the mention of my ex-cultist girlfriend, I got a case of the warm fuzzies.
“Director Wesker’s been putting her through all this cataloging work while they try to figure out how Mandalay had the place organized before we took it over,” I said. “But even with all that busy work, she found some time to help me go over various Oubliette scenarios. We read up on the two carnival wheels that determine my fate. Then we played out the various combinations of weapons it could give to aid me and what the different challenges thrown at me might be. I’m hoping I get a good combo. I’d love it if the Oubliette gave me a silver-tipped crossbow and matched it up with a werewolf. Fingers crossed!”
“I can’t tell which is worse for Jane,” Connor said, “having worked for the forces of evil or having to work for Thaddeus Wesker in Greater and Lesser Arcana Division. Still, sounds like she’s trying to help you live through this thing. Not bad for an ex-cultist temp.”
“Watch it,” I said, not really taking him too seriously. “She worked for the Sectarian Defense League more for the benefits package than anything. I think helping me pin their leader to the wall with a sword proves she’s turned over a new leaf.”
“Fair enough,” Connor said, stopping at an intersection to look around. “I’d like to think Jane and I have softened toward each other over the past three months.”
As I waited for him to pick a direction, I couldn’t help but eye all the tables full of collectibles. I adjusted the well-worn leather gloves I had on. With my psychometric ability, it was hard to keep my hands to myself near all this geeky merchandise. Part of me would love to have touched something and read the past of the object, but now was so not the time for that kind of distraction. While I had gotten better at controlling my powers as of late, I was pretty sure going into the Oubliette after having depleted my blood sugar over a bunch of knickknacks was a surefire way to fail it outright.
“Come on,” Connor said, heading off to our right. “I think Inspectre Quimbley and Wesker said it was set up down this way.”
“So why is Wesker going to be here?” I asked. “Does the director of Greater and Lesser Arcana have nothing better to do than come ridicule me? We’re Other Division. He doesn’t even hold any jurisdiction over us.”
“But he does hold it over anything magical happening in the tristate area,” Connor said, “so Inspectre Quimbley is letting him make sure that the Oubliette rental goes smoothly.”
“So Wesker’s hope that I fail is just a bonus for him today, is it?”
“Something like that, kid,” Connor said.
The traffic of humanity thinned out a little over in this section of the Javits Center. We turned down one aisle and walked until it dead-ended at a hanging blue curtain. Connor pulled it aside.
“After you,” he said.
I stepped through into an open space about twenty feet square. The Inspectre and Director Wesker were there, and smack in the center of the curtained-off area was the Oubliette itself. I had only seen pictures of one before, but up close and in person the object that would decide my fate in the Department was a bit underwhelming. Essentially it looked like a prop from a stage show—a round stone well on a wheeled platform. It looked like the kind of well people made wishes on, complete with a little wooden roof and a winch bar running between the beams, with rope coiled around it. Although it didn’t look deep enough to even stand in, I knew that once I was lowered inside it, it would open up into the magic and dangerous well I had been studying.
As Connor and I crossed to the Inspectre, a hulking figure rose up from behind the well, a giant of a man who looked like he could be brothers with Penn Gillette.
“Don’t tell me I have to fight a giant, as well,” I whispered, hoping he couldn’t hear me.
“Heavens no,” the Inspectre chimed in. He had a booming British accent and a walruslike mustache. “Unless, I suppose, that’s one of the options on the challenge wheel for the Oubliette.” He waved the huge man over. “Julius, come here.”
The giant came over, moving much more nimbly that I would have expected for a man of his size. He held a wooden easel in his hand.
“This,” the Inspectre said, patting me on the shoulder, “is the young man who’ll be testing in the Oubliette today. Simon Canderous.”
Julius put down the easel and offered his hand. I took it. With hands that big, he easily could have palmed my entire head like a basketball.
“Julius Heron,” he said, sounding like that should mean something to me. He looked hopeful. “Of the Brothers Heron?”
I nodded uncertainly.
“Nothing?” he asked. “You’ve . . . never heard of us?”
“Sorry,” I said, “no.”
He looked disappointed. “We’re world renowned . . .”
“I’m sure you are,” I said, “but I’m kind of new to all this and I don’t get out much.”
His face brightened. “That’s probably it. Anyway, good luck,” he said, and headed back over toward the well.
Julius set up two easels and attached the Wheels of Misfortune to them, miniature versions of the one Pat Sajak uses. One Wheel listed the types of equipment I might be given to survive with, while the other listed the challenges, sporting names like Scarifying Scarabs, Sinking Sand Trap, Grievous Guillotine, Watery Grave, Leaping Lizards, and Ravenous Rats. A chill ran down my spine. Although I was a native New Yorker—and therefore rat-familiar by association—the idea of them in particular creeped me out like nobody’s business.
As I tried to shake off the heebie-jeebies, the Inspectre turned to Wesker. “Is everything about ready?”
Wesker walked around the well once and checked out the Wheels. He gave the Inspectre a nod.
“Now, then,” the Inspectre said, “all that’s left is the pat down. If you’ll permit me . . . ?”
I held my arms apart and spread my legs farther apart. This felt dangerously similar to my past brushes with the law, but I knew it was simply to make sure I wasn’t bringing anything into the Oubliette that would prove helpful in the test.
The Inspectre stopped when he felt the leather holster I usually hung my retractable bat in. It didn’t help that I had forgotten to remove the bat from it. He gave me a stern look.
“Sorry,” I said, reaching inside my coat and pulling the bat out of it. I handed it over. “Force of habit.”
“You mean being a cheater?” Wesker asked, moving closer, no doubt to keep an eye on me.
I ignored him, but after the Inspectre was done with his search, Wesker started looking me over as well.
“What’s that?” he said, pointing at a rectangular-shaped item in my front pocket.
“My cell phone,” I said, “but if I get to the point where I have to throw it at whatever challenge awaits me down there, I’ve probably already failed, right?”
“Leave the boy alone now, Thaddeus,” the Inspectre said. He turned to me. “Shall we?”
I stepped over to the well and looked down. The shaft plunged into darkness, and I got a sense of disorienting vertigo from the difference of its depth compared to the shallowness of the showroom floor. With little effort, Julius helped lift me up onto the edge of it and then handed me the winch rope to secure around my waist. I pulled off my gloves and tied the rope around myself. Julius gave it a tug.
“Too tight?” he asked.
I shook my head. “It does make me feel like a giant yo-yo, though.”
Connor laughed. “No arguments here, kid.”
“Would you rather go down there?”
“Been there,” he said, backing up, hands raised, “passed that.”
The Inspectre stepped forward. “Enough horsing around,” he said. His face was serious and he lowered his voice to a whisper. “Listen, my boy. Keep your wits about you and you’ll do fine.”
“But remember. While many regular Department members have washed out in the Oubliette before, no member of the Fraternal Order of Goodness ever has.”
Nothing like a little last-minute pressure to get the heart going. Before the Inspectre could say anything further to unnerve me, I pushed myself off the edge of the well and began my descent into the Oubliette.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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but all the characters are the same. it's as if the author can't make more than 3 distinct characters and there's no character development through the 3 books. also, it seems that very little research was done to produce this work. there's a cool story underlying here, but the author's poor execution makes it hard to find.
I liked it very much. I was a bit leery after the first book, but I was very happy that I kept with it. I was a very good book. The characters were much more like-able, and the story was much more concrete. I can't wait to pick up the third in the series. Yay! I love conspiracies.
Worth reading it! Better than the first one! LOVED IT!
As a huge fan of the paranormal, I had read Anton Strout's first book "Dead to me" and anxiously awaited the follow up to it. "Deader Still" is solid writing though to me it lacked the exitement that his first book had. Nevertheless, his characters are interesting, and the thought of what an actual "Paranormal P.D." would be like crossed my mind on more than one occasion while reading this book. The plot is well written, with touches of humor throughout. The main character reminds me a little of Harry Dresden from Jim Butcher's "Dresden Files". If you are a fan of the paranormal, you'll like this.
Definitely an interesting concept.
It's been a long time since Manhattan had a problem with vampires, but when a boat load of blood-suckers (the kind who practice law) turn up dead and drained, Simon and his mentor/partner Connor fear the worst. To make matters awkward, Simon's hard-won position with the Fraternal Order of Good is driving a wedge between him and his partner -- and Simon's ex-evil girlfriend Jane is getting a little too friendly with her boss. When Simon's past catches up with him in the form of sexy-but-criminal art thief Mina, who is determined to get Simon to help her with one last heist. So determined that she'll threaten everything Simon cares about to win. Deader Still is another mad-cap adventure, where Simon battles red-tape as often as the forces of evil. Jane steals every scene that she's in, and while the romantic squabbling can be as frustrating for readers as it is for Simon and Jane, seeing Jane grow and develop beyond her evil past is delightful -- especially as she's mastering the higher powers of technomancy. The characters are all convincing, and the mystery behind why Connor is so distant gives him greater depth as both Simon's mentor and friend. And really, zombie fighting in New York never gets old! Here's hoping that Simon has plenty of adventures to come.
The psychometric powers that enabled Simon Canderous to be a brilliant thief ended up also putting him in jail. As an ex-con he knew no ordinary employer world hire him, but the Department of Extraordinary Affairs (DEA) operates on a tight budget so hiring a man with his talent would normally be impossible; he has no choice but to accept a crummy civil servant salary (see DEAD TO ME).
It has been over two years since vampires were spotted in the Tri-State area, but when a booze cruise is found floating in the harbor, a check finds everyone on board dead; all drained of blood with marks on their necks. Like all the law enforcement types on the scene, Simon initially assumes vampires killed everyone on board. He changes his mind when he sees in a vision what killed them. His partner Connor tells Simon he believes it is a chupacabra, a canine like creature with red hypnotic eyes and a protruding spinal ridge. Gypsies brought the beasts into the area and are selling one to an enemy of Simon who wants Simon dead. Numerous attempts are made on his life, but he escapes each time even while trying to prevent a supernatural catastrophe from occurring in Central Park.
The antihero has an acerbic wit that helps him cope with the insanity of the bureaucracy he has joined. His significant other Jane has powers that are similar to Simon¿s skill of knowing an object¿s history by touching it although she is not as controllable as he is; she saves his life before being captured by his foe. DEADER STILL is a refreshing exciting urban fantasy with elements of romance and horror that will appeal to fans of Jim Butcher.