I have been on a mystery reading kick lately, finally catching up with all those authors I always meant to read but never had the time to. In the case of Erica Spindler’s Dead Run, however, all I discovered was how an interesting and timely plot can be marred by boring characters and less-than-stellar prose.
Divorced family counselor Liz Ames receives one last message from her sister, Pastor Rachel Howard, before Rachel mysteriously disappears. Rachel was working at Paradise Christian Church in Key West, and from what the police have been able to discover, she had become stranger and stranger, her sermons with increasingly dark “fire and brimstone” overtones scaring off families with children from her church. Liz decides to move to Key West to find our what happened to her sister, and soon enough, deaths begin to occur.
As Liz tries to discover her sister’s whereabouts, finding only stonewalling from the local police, she meets Rick Wells, an ex-cop with a tragic past who runs a local bar. When Rick and Liz end up at one of the murder scenes, the case hits another nerve for Liz: she had just begun to counsel Tara, the young woman found murdered. Seeing in Rick the only person she can confide in, Liz decides to share her theory with him – that Tara knew what happened to Rachel. Rick has his own theory about what happened to Tara, since the young woman’s boyfriend used to work for him, but soon they discover the existence of a cult, the Horned Flower. The cult attracts young people in search of all sorts of pleasures – but of course, it has a much darker side – which seems to be the link between the deaths and Rachel’s disappearance. Knowing who to trust becomes Liz and Rick’s main problem, as it seems they can turn to no one in Key West.
Neither Liz nor Rick are engaging characters – they are people to whom bad things have happened, but they are not particularly interesting. I am all in favor of having imperfect, flawed characters in books, rather than the usual goody-goody, perfect-at-everything heroes and heroines, but one thing they can’t be is boring. Liz, especially, seems rather weak considering she is the central character of the novel. The overly descriptive prose doesn’t help, nor does the obviousness of the villain, once introduced. If I hadn’t had to finish this book for review, I would have stopped reading it right after he/she enters the scene.
The core of this mystery – the struggle between good and evil – ends up being underwhelming. The ending is of the kitchen-sink variety, with everything thrown in from thunder and lightning to add a little (more) drama, to evil characters who throw their heads back and laugh demonically, to the predictable speech by a character who explains everything that was done and why. At times I felt I was watching one of those overacted soap-opera scenes, and not particularly good soap opera at that. Dead Run is more of a dead end than anything else.