LESS THAN DEAD: A Bug Man Novel
Author Interview –– September 2008
If you’re tired of the same-old, same-old rehashed themes and characters in inspirational fiction, then try the Bug Man novels. In LESS THAN DEAD, Tim Downs’s forensic entomologist Nick Polchak takes on the secrets of an old cemetery, explores the world of witches and cadaver dogs, gets enmeshed in politics and tracks down an unlikely serial killer.
As the story opens, Nick is dispatched to northern Virginia where construction on a new megamall has been halted. An old cemetery has been discovered on the grounds, with newly-murdered victims interred on top of the old caskets. Presidential hopeful Senator John Henry Braden --- who, with his beautiful and savvy wife Victoria Braden, is anxious that no negative publicity taints his run for office --- owns the mall’s thousand acres in question. And, of course, he wants nothing to stop his new megamall from being built.
Although Nick’s job is to analyze the bodies in order to date the time of death, being “The Bug Man,” you just know he’s going to poke his nose into things and get into trouble. His disrespect for authority is appealing, and his disregard for protocol is invigorating. In order to locate some of the murdered bodies, Nick relies on Alena Savard, a reclusive woman thought to be a witch by the locals. She lives in the hills close to the small town of Endor and raises cadaver-finding dogs. Nick gradually earns her trust --- and is there a romance in the offing for the quirky Bug Man? Downs includes some nice sparks of romance between the two.
The strength of Downs’s novel is in his punchy dialogue and well-developed, interesting characters --- his protagonist Nick is hands down one of my favorite characters in inspirational fiction. The author’s genuine sense of humor permeates every page, and leavens the gruesome killings and suspense with lighter moments. One example:
A few seconds later the huge black dog came trotting into the trailer and sat down next to Alena.
She looked up at Nick. “Just so you know: Before you could ever lay a hand on me, Acheron would tear out your throat.”
“I got a sample of what Acheron could do the other night,” Nick said. “Believe me, I’m happy right where I am.”
“Sit,” she said, pointing to the sofa.
“Is that an invitation or a command?”
She didn’t reply.
Nick looked down at the dog. “Acheron. If I remember my mythology, Acheron is one of the rivers that surrounds Hades --- the ‘river of woe,’ isn’t it? It’s an unusual name --- how did you happen to pick it?”
“He picked it,” she said.
Nick raised one eyebrow. “He picked it?”
“You were taking a big chance, weren’t you? Most dogs would have picked ‘Woof.’”
Again, no response.
Tough room, Nick thought.
If I have any quibbles with this novel, it’s that the discovery of the serial killer seems almost anti-climatic. I found that most of the plot tension came in scenes with lots of dialogue between Nick and Alena, and interaction with her terrifying but endearing pack of cadaver dogs.
Downs also pens good moments between Nick and Victoria, the candidate’s wife, incorporating some light sexual tension. With the presidential election looming as this book releases, readers will appreciate the elements of political finagling and power plays, especially from the potential first lady.
Downs previously published SHOEFLY PIE, CHOP SHOP and the excellent FIRST THE DEAD. Each of these novels is a treat, and LESS THAN DEAD is no exception.
--- Reviewed by Cindy Crosby. Contact Cindy at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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