Not Dead Yet (Not Dead Yet #1) by Jenn Burke

This title may be purchased from Amazon.

Dying isn’t what it used to be.

Wes Cooper was dead. Then he wasn’t—though he’s not exactly alive, either. As an immortal not-ghost, he can transition between this world and the otherplane, which makes him the perfect thief for hire. For seventy years he’s made a “living” returning items to their rightful owners, seeing his fair share of the bizarre in the process. But he’s never witnessed murder. Until now.

His latest mission brings him more than he bargained for: a very-dead actor who is definitely going to stay that way. It’s just Wes’s luck that his ex-boyfriend, Detective Hudson Rojas, is assigned to the case. Hudson broke Wes’s heart years ago—and could again, given he’s rocking a hot silver-fox look that shouldn’t be legal.

As they work together to track down the murderer before anyone else gets hurt, it becomes clear Wes and Hudson have unfinished business. And when a secret Hudson’s been keeping threatens more than just their happiness, it might mean the end of their not-life together—permanently.

Rating: A-

For some reason, I’ve been gravitating towards paranormal romances lately, most often ones featuring characters involved in law enforcement, which was the immediate appeal of Jenn Burke’s Not Dead Yet.  It’s the first in a new series in which one of the protagonists is, as the title suggests, Not Dead.  Although he’s Not Alive either, which is certainly a unique twist and not something I’ve come across before.  Not Dead Yet is a hugely enjoyable read featuring two well-rounded principals, an intriguing mystery, and a slow-burn romance; I wasn’t sure what to expect when I picked it up, but it turned out to be a winner and I’m definitely on board for the rest of the series.

In 1933, Wes Cooper was shot and killed by his lover, Michael.  But Michael’s sister was a witch and, unable to accept what her brother had done, cast a spell to bring Wes back to life – but not only did it resurrect him, it made him immortal, something that’s changed his life in lots of small ways as well as the one  big one.  Wes will never age physically and because of this, he never – well, almost never – embarks upon close friendships or relationships, knowing there’s only so long he can use the excuse of having good genes to explain away his unchanging appearance.  He’s had to move around and change his identity every ten years or so in order to stop people wondering about him, and his only real friends have been the generations of witches from the family who brought him back from the dead.  Even so, he’s flesh and blood; he lives in the world as we know it, but he also retains a link to the otherplane, the place where the dead go before moving on, and where some of them linger, usually in hopes of concluding unfinished business.

Wes uses his ability to slip between the planes of existence to earn a living, sneaking into people’s private spaces as a ghost to recover items for interested parties – heirlooms they want back, contracts they shouldn’t have signed and even information they can use for blackmail.  He’s treading a fine line; technically he’s committing theft, although he prefers to think of it as ‘retrieval’, but because of the nature of what he does, he has a very strictly defined set of business practices designed to protect him and his identity; clients come to him via a sophisticated set of referrals and anonymous messages, and he never meets directly with any of them.  And their targets are usually shady types, people who’ve done things that are not-so-nice, making them dangerous to be around.

When Wes is in the otherplane, he isn’t able to see clearly into the living world, seeing instead a series of shapes and shadowy images that don’t allow him to pick out any details, which is why he’s slow to realise he’s witnessing the final stages of a murder. He’s on a job at the home of a famous actress, realises too late what’s going on and is rooted to the spot by fear and indecision. The murderer has a shadow like nothing Wes has ever seen – dark grey, with jagged edges and surrounded by an aura of danger – all of it signalling this is something he does not want to mess with.

Still, he feels guilty and ashamed that he did nothing to help the victim, and this eventually compels him to try to help bring the killer to justice. But where to start? Going to the police will reveal his presence at the murder scene – but maybe there’s a way to approach them through… unofficial channels. In the 1980s, Wes dated a cop, Hudson Rojas, for five years, and okay, they split up a bit acrimoniously – mostly because of Hudson’s unwillingness to put his relationship before his job – but he’s one of the few people Wes ever told about his abilities and if he’s still around, perhaps he’d be willing to use Wes’ information in the investigation.

After thirty-three years, their reunion is – unsurprisingly – an awkward one. At fifty-eight, Hudson is still gorgeous, a fit, hot, silver-fox, but he’s grown up in a way that Wes still hasn’t, for all that Wes is over a hundred years old. Hudson listens carefully to Wes’ story, but makes it clear he’s not interested in catching up or making small talk; his dismissive attitude irritates Wes, but even so, Wes agrees to help by accompanying (as a ghost) Hudson as he interviews suspects, looking for anyone whose silhouette matches that of the killer. As they work together, Wes and Hudson have to navigate the tricky waters of their shared past and deal with all the baggage that still lies between them, and… let’s just say that there are some big surprises in store.

The world-building in Not Dead Yet is skilfully done, with the story existing in a world that is recognisably our own but which also incorporates a parallel paranormal universe. Ms. Burke does a great job of defining the capabilities of the various supernatural characters she introduces, setting clear restrictions and boundaries, such as the fact that a witch can never cast a spell for personal benefit, or the limitations on Wes’ ability to shift between planes and from place to place. The mystery is really intriguing and kept me guessing right up until the final chapters, and there are some great twists, turns and revelations along the way.

The relationship between Wes and Hudson is extremely well developed, and they’re very strongly characterised as individuals, too. Wes sometimes comes off as rather immature – in spite of his actual age – which is something that is brought home to him when he first meets Hudson again, and which he struggles with throughout the story. The author does a great job in showing how Wes’ social isolation – firstly as a kid growing up in a hostile environment and then as something imposed on him by his immortality – has led to his habit of self-interest and looking after number one, and then in showing his character growth as he at last acknowledges these traits and pushes through his fears in the attempt to do better.

Hudson is equally strongly defined, a dedicated cop who has been around the block (and then some) a few times, but who has never forgotten Wes over the years, and their rekindling relationship is a delicious slow-burn. It’s never explicitly stated that Wes is demisexual, but from references to the infrequency with which he experiences sexual attraction and the way he experiences it – usually only when he’s emotionally invested – and the fact he’s only been sexually attracted to two men in his long lifetime (Michael and Hudson) would seem to indicate that to be the case. And I loved that Hudson knows how attraction works for Wes and is mindful of that as they resume a physical relationship.

There’s a great secondary cast, too, notably Wes’ best friend Lexi (the great-granddaughter of the witch who brought him back from the dead) and Evan, a ‘baby’ (recently turned) vampire, both of whom I hope to see more of in future books.

Not Dead Yet is a really entertaining read, and one I’m definitely recommending. I was excited to find such a unique premise (in Wes’ not-dead-ness) and all in all, it’s a thrilling, funny, insightful and sexy read, one I devoured in a couple of sittings. The main plotline is wrapped up by the end although there are some intriguing threads left for the remainder of the series; and while Wes and Hudson have found each other again, I suspect there’s more to come for them as a couple. I’m really looking forward to the next instalment, Give Up the Ghost, which is due out this summer.

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