Give Up the Ghost (Not Dead Yet #2) by Jenn Burke

This title may be purchased from Amazon

The bigger they are, the harder they maul.

Immortal not-ghost Wes Cooper and his vampire partner, Hudson Rojas, have it all—rewarding private investigation work, great friends and, most important, a love that’s endured. But ever since Wes sent a demon screaming back to the beyond, his abilities have grown overpowering and overwhelming. He’s hiding the fact that he’s losing control the best he can, but it’s hard to keep anything a secret for long when your partner’s a former cop…and especially when your partner’s a former cop who wants to move in together.

When all hell literally breaks loose in Toronto and superstrength ghosts are unleashed on Wes and his friends, he and Hudson are thrown into a case unlike any they’ve seen before. To save the city, Wes needs to harness his new power…and find some answers. But when he gets them, the solution to fix it all could mean losing everything.

Rating: A-

Jenn Burke’s Not Dead Yet earned a place on my keeper shelf earlier this year for many reasons, not least of which were the great storytelling, excellent worldbuilding, memorable characters, snappy dialogue and unusual premise.  Wes Cooper was murdered in 1933 by his lover Michael, but was resurrected by Michael’s sister – a witch.  Somehow, she overdid it, not only bringing Wes back to life, but making him immortal, which changed his life in many ways apart from the obvious one.  He’s made a living as a ‘retrieval specialist’, using his ability to slip between the living plane and the otherplane (which exists between the living and the dead), to sneak in and out of places others cannot access in order to recover items for interested parties.  Witnessing a murder while in the otherplane was the kicking off point for Not Dead Yet, which saw Wes reconnect with the love of his life, detective Hudson Rojas, and then work with him to solve the murder, making some truly disturbing discoveries along the way.  As Wes and his rag-taggle band of friends and allies fought together to prevent a powerful demon taking corporeal form, something even weirder than usual happened to him, and at the end of the story he realised that his (mostly low-level) magical powers had somehow been increased to a massive degree – and he’s not entirely sure if he’s strong enough to control them.

Give Up the Ghost opens some months after those events, and Wes still hasn’t told Hudson or his best friend, Lexi, what happened to him.  It’s not that he’s deliberately holding out on them, it’s just that, what with one thing and another – Hudson’s retirement from the Toronto PD, setting up their new PI agency, settling into being a couple again, Lexi needing to rest following the clean-up after their battle with the demon, and helping their friend, Evan, to come to terms with his part in it – basically, there just hasn’t been a good time.  And now, months later, it feels too weird to bring it up.  Plus, Wes is a master at avoidance and decides he’s better off not knowing exactly what the Crown of Osiris did to him, because that way he can hide from it.  But he’s struggling; not only to keep the secret, but to keep his powers under control and his fears at bay – and it’s taking its toll on him.

A bunch of “weird shit” happening at their local coffee shop is the first clue that something is badly wrong.  Wes, Lexi and Evan arrive to discover the place overrun by imps, who must be coming through some sort of crack or portal into the living plane – but from where?  Imps don’t exist in the otherplane, so they must be coming from Beyond, the place where spirits pass after death and where demons live – but in order to do that, the imps must have been summoned.  But by whom – and why?  Before Wes can contemplate that, however, he and the others must seal the breach – and not for the first time, he berates himself for not coming clean about his enhanced magic, as he instead of doing it himself, he has to channel some of his magic into Lexi so that she can close it.

Wes wants to find out what happened – after all, they’re investigators now, right? – but Hudson insists they’re not the paranormal police and wants to leave it alone.  Things between Wes and Hudson have been a bit on edge for a while; Hudson wants them to move in together (again) but Wes keeps turning him down, scared that Hudson will find out the truth about his magic and everything will change between them.  Even though he’s well aware that his own experience now strongly parallels what happened to Hudson when he was turned (into a vampire), Wes still can’t bring himself to reach out. He’s terrified that Hudson will look at him differently and that their relationship will fall apart. Again.

When Lexi receives a phone call from Kee, a friend who runs a shelter for homeless LGBTQIA teens, telling her that some of the kids there report having seen ghosts, she and Wes head over to Aurora House to see what’s going on. Kee tells them about a mirror that spontaneously shattered, a resident who watched scratches appear on his arm, one who felt someone nudge him as he walked down the stairs… and Wes is immediately on the alert.  It’s not unusual for ghosts to want to communicate with the living, but for them to persist when it’s clear that none of the living around them are sensitive enough to be able to do it?  That bothers him.  He’s bothered even more by the fact he can see ghosts in his normal, human state, which isn’t something he’s ordinarily able to do.

The portal in the coffee shop, ghosts haunting places they’d never been when alive and trying to communicate in the living plane – and then, the appearance of Michael, who is clearly trying to warn Wes about something; all these things point to some sort of movement or tear in the fabric of the boundaries that exist between the different planes.  And the more Wes, Hudson and their friends discover, the clearer it becomes that it’s imperative the breach is sealed once and for all… and that there’s only one way to do that. And only one person who can do it.  But at what cost?

Give Up the Ghost is a terrific sequel to Not Dead Yet, full of all the ingredients that made that first book such a great read.  The storyline is compelling, suspenseful and heartbreaking – I choked up near the end! – the characters are well-defined and complex, with flaws that make them seem that much more real, and the relationships between them are brilliantly drawn.  Wes and Hudson are going through the sorts of teething troubles experienced by many couples, none of which is helped by the fact they’re both keeping secrets; but though things sometimes seem rocky, they’re both committed to making things work between them this time around.  They’re great characters – individually and together – and I continue to enjoy Wes’ very distinctive voice and the way he’s still growing as a character and working to break out of his long-ingrained habit of self-interest. Even though he can sometimes be frustrating, his awareness of his flaws is truly appealing, as is his fierce desire to protect those he loves, Hudson and his ‘found family’.

Give Up the Ghost is a fantastic blend of romance, humour, chills and suspense and is, fortunately, one of those rare sequels that’s as good as the first in the series. Both books are going to be sitting right next to each other on my keeper shelf, and I’m eagerly awaiting Graveyard Shift, which is set for release later this year.

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.