HelenKay: With so many paranomal offerings following the lives (or undead lives, as the case may be) of vampires, witches, werewolves and other nightstalking creatures, a reader can find anything from funny to horror on the shelves. Paranormal reads of the vampire variety range from the more harsh, like Kassandra Sims’ The Midnight Work, to light and charming, like Kerrelyn Sparks’ How to Marry a Millionaire Vampire. Recent witch/Wicca stories tend to fall more on the humorous side, but the not-so-funny are available, too. If the quest then is to find something new, to set one paranomal apart from the one read before, what happens if an author combines funny with serious and vampires with witches? Tate Hallaway provides the answer in Tall, Dark & Dead. She even throws in the Goddess of Evil, and witch hunters who get their orders straight from the Vatican.
At one time, Garnet Lacey lived in Minneapolis, dated a vampire, was a practicing witch and kept close ties with her coven. Then the Vatican witch hunters came – assassins of the Order of St. Eustice who take the biblical phrase ““Thou shall not suffer a Witch to live” very seriously. Garnet walked in on the massacre. Unable to save her coven or fight the assassins off on her own, she called on (really, she more like chaneled) Lilith, an evil Goddess, for assistance. Lilith obliged, did some killing of her own and then refused to leave Garnet’s body. Now, eight months later, Garnet has morphed into a goth chick and moved to Madison, Wisconsin. She works in a New Age store, refrains from using magic, keeps mostly to herself, keeps watches for the witch hunters…and fights to prevent Lilith from rising up within her and taking over. Unfortunately, Lilith as other ideas and an overwhelming need to be in charge. She also feeds off Garnet’s use of magic and anger.
In the middle of minding her own business, Garnet meets Sebatian Von Traum. He walks into her store looking for mandrake and suspiciously missing an aura. Garnet decides Sebastian is both attractive and dead. The fact he can walk in daylight and engage in many other un-vampirelike activities is the problem. Garnet quickly learns that she is not the only one with something to hide. Sebastian possesses his own secrets, including a half-vampire/half-human (and all annoying) son, and a little something that makes him a target for the Vatican assassins.
Witches, vampires, religious zealots and an nasty Goddess – this book has it all. And much more. Garnet and Sebastian deal with every issue from murder to disloyalty, vengeance to family dysfunction, feelings of inadequacy to pain and personal failure and, yes, even questions of faith. Heavy stuff. Or, the topics would be if Hallaway concenrated only the drama of the situations and ignored her multi-faceted characters. She doesn’t. Instead, she mixes complex and very real and true emotions with witty dialog, a charming heroine and a light hand. Tall, Dark & Dead is not light in the sense of fluffy or forgettable. Rather, it’s light in the sense of handling serious subjects with a humorous and human voice, all without dragging down the plot.
There is nothing slow or plodding here. Tall, Dark & Dead zips along, carried by a sexy attraction between Sebastian and Garnet, a hot one-night (afternoon) stand, typical and understandable dumb woman moves (most relating to an ex), a touch of mystery and a run-for-your-life feel. Both Garnet and Sebastian, and to a lesser extent Sebastian’s son, are rich and layered. Anger, love, mistrust and disappointment flow back and forth, giving each greater depth. While the secondary characters, specifically Garnet’s friends William and Izzy, as well as Garnet’s ex, are set up to play much more active roles than they actually do, they do provide some context and insight into Garnet and the person she once was versus the person she’s become due to Lilith and the witch hunters. The action stays focused on Sebastian and Garnet, though some may wonder if good friend Izzy adds anything at all to the story.
The one weakness here is the ending. It’s possible that one downside of a plot that races to the point of careening – one that zigs and zags with unexpected turns and a fresh take on an old theme – can be the possibility of a letdown in the finale. To some extent, and probably to a greater extent than it should, Tall, Dark & Dead suffers from that problem. Many questions are left unresolved, likely because a sequel is on the horizon. That is forgiveable, even expected nowadays. However, the bit of a “piff” in the final pages does leave a sense that there should have been just a little more. The abrupt shift to “The End” shouldn’t deter readers. The enjoyable pages that come before are worth the sharp and somewhat confusing stop.
Final Thought: A fresh and funny paranormal/fantasy that takes on serious issues with a pitch-perfect tone.
You can visit Tate Hallaway here and buy this book here or here.