‘Play Dead’ – Elise Sandburg #1 by Anne Frasier

Promising start to a series, set in Savannah, that walks the line between police procedural and supernatural thriller.

‘Play Dead’ is the start of a series of books about Elise Sandburg, a homicide detective with the Savannah Police Department. In this first book, Elise is investigating instances of apparently people waking up on the coroner’s slab and dying shortly afterwards. Elise gets the woo woo work because legend has it that she is the daughter of a famous root doctor and that she was found abandoned in an ancient Low Country cemetery.

I found it refreshing that, from the start, nobody thought these were really zombies. Which is not to say that a root doctor may not have been involved but if they are, they’ll be found by detective work, not magic.

Elise Sandberg knows about root spell the way a lapsed Catholic knows about transubstantiation: she can describe the ceremonies and the intent, knows that it has power for others, doesn’t buy-in to herself but accepts its presence as part of her identity.

For me, much of the appeal of the book was that it was filled with credible characters with real lives, albeit exotic ones. Elise is a mother as well as a detective and her relationships with her teenage daughter, and with her ex-husband and his new wife are well-drawn. Her new partner, an ex-FBI agent and a Northerner, has a traumatic past, a bleak present and may not have much of a future. The victims and bad guys, who are sometimes the same people, are complicated and human.

The plot had enough puzzle in it to make things interesting without putting the characters in the shade and Savannah provides a unique setting that feels authentic.

‘Play Dead’ was an entertaining read that made me want to read more in the series.

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