Hello and welcome to Day 5 of the Blog Tour for Dead Is Beautiful by Jo Perry. I’m so glad you could join me in celebrating this magnificent series. Now, you may, or you may not, be aware that this is in fact book 4 in the ‘Dead Is…’ series. No, no you don’t need to leave. It’s ok, all is good. This series isn’t one of those next-book-continues-into-next-book kind. You can happily read this as a standalone, as I’ll explain later in the review.
However, there are three other books out there that I absolutely suggest that you check out. They are:
If you click on each of those titles above you will be taken to the brilliant It’s An Indie Book Blog run by the wonderful and far-more-eloquent-than-I Matt Keyes. He reviewed these books in a way I never could and you really should check them out.
Have you done that? It’s ok, you can come back and do it later; I won’t be upset. As long as you do read them, I’ll be happy.
Coolio, shall we get on with it then? Splendid.
First, let us have some blurb:
DEAD IS BEAUTIFUL finds Rose leading Charlie from the peace of the afterlife to the place he hates most on earth, “Beverly Fucking Hills,” where a mature, protected tree harbouring a protected bird is being illegally cut down.
The tree-assault leads Charlie and Rose to a murder and to the person Charlie loathes most in life and in death, the sibling he refers to only as “his shit brother,” who is in danger.
Charlie fights across the borders of life and death, for the man who never fought for him, and with the help of a fearless Scotsman, a beautiful witch, and a pissed-off owl, Charlie must stop a cruel and exploitative scheme and protect his beloved Rose.
Let’s talk about ghosts, shall we? Yes, yes we shall. If you are of a nervous disposition, a scaredy cat, or just someone who is feeling a little on edge at the moment then maybe this isn’t the review for you. You see, Dead Is Beautiful is about ghosts. Not exclusively; there are many, many living people amongst its pages, but ghosts, and two in particular, are the stars of the show.
When you think of a ghost, what do you think of? I imagine it’ll be something like this:
Scary, huh? Yeah, me neither. Anyway, what did these ghosts do before the advent of linen? What about the caveman ghost? Did they wander the dark caves of early prehistoric humans going “woooOOOOOoooOOOooooOOOOO” in fluffy animal skins? Mind you, that could’ve been a sight more scary, especially if the family living in that particular haunted cave used a sabre-toothed tiger as a duvet cover or a mammoth skin as a bath towel.
Either way, sheet ghosts are about as scary and as threatening as your mum in her nightie offering you a large warm cup of cocoa, your favourite soft toy and your favourite comic when you were ill as a child.
Then we have your classic transparent ghost. Now these make more sense to me. They are supposed to be the souls of the dead so their very etheralness is more logical:
Look, here we have Obi Wan Kenobi and the venerable Yoda post life. Ok, Yoda looks a little miffed about it all, but Old Ben there looks ok to me. To be fair he has had a whole two movies more to get used to being dead, so Yoda is in good hands.
Ghosts can be good, like our esteemed Jedi Masters up there, or they can be nasty and malevolent, cheeky even. Look at this chap:
That’s Beetlejuice. Say his name three times and he’ll appear and make your life, well, if not exactly hell, then certainly more interesting. He’s also quite likely to marry you without so much as by your leave, attract sodding great worm-like things into your garden and turn your attic into a gateway to the afterlife. Nice of him. I wonder if he needs planning permission for that? It’ll certainly lower your house’s value and I’m sure the neighbours will act up.
There are the ghosts that we cannot see. The poltergeists and their ilk:
Poltergeists are just plain messy buggers. I’m sure they don’t mean to be, but they are. Look at this poor sod above. I bet he and his lady friend there had just got the place all spick and span and cosy looking when along comes a poltergeist and turns it all upside down; literally in this case. Even the pets are on the ceiling. That’s just uncalled for. Maybe they are just trying to attract our attention, but as they cannot be seen or heard they result to luzzing stuff about the place. The trouble is we usually end up looking at the place where the stuff lands and not in the direction it came from, so the poltergeist just gets more and more frustrated until it ends up having an ethereal hissy-fit and breaks everything. Understandable really. They clearly have anger management issues and are in need of some ghostly counselling, or some shit. Ghost-land needs some good therapists, I feel. A lot of hauntings and other related issues could possibly be resolved with a good bit of talking things through. Especially with those Japanese ghosts; those ones are particularly adept at holding a grudge. Ha, I made a joke there, do you see? Ah, Google it *rolls eyes emoji*
Charlie Stone is dead. He is deader than the UK’s hopes of ever winning the Eurovision Song Contest, or a pigeon accidentally flying into the annual peregrine falcon get-together at lunchtime. How he died is no mystery; it all happened at the start of Dead Is Better, that’s book 1 to you. I’ll leave you to find that out once you get around to reading it 😉
So what kind of ghost is Charlie Stone?
He is the kind of ghost that can have no interaction with the living at all. He can pass through you, scream in your face, punch you, throttle you, and you would be no more aware of it than you are now that I am poking my tongue out at you. But ith thith an ithhue for… thorry, I thtill have my tongue out… there, back in now. As I was saying before I rudely interrupted myself, is this an issue for him? Not really. Is it an issue for us as readers? Not at all. In fact it’s a great narrative device, and one that I’m sure is pretty much unique in supernatural fiction.
In almost every other book I’ve read where a ghost is involved it can be seen, felt, heard in some way. In Jo’s ‘Dead Is’ series, Charlie Stone, just like all the rest of the teeming dead in Jo’s world, is an observer. He can no more interact with the living than I can poke my tongue into my ear. And trust me, I’ve tried; I just end up with a very wet cheek and a mouth full of beard hair. In the world that Jo has created the dead live, maybe that should be exist, alone. The afterlife is one never-ending expanse of white, or what we would perceive as white. It is more of an absence of, well, everything. You appear there once your life is no longer extant, exactly as you were in the moments before you died. In Charlie’s case this is as an overweight, bullet ridden man in an open shirt stained with his blood:
“Bullet holes still interrupt my flesh. My sternum is cracked, my chest bruised black and purple from their efforts. One thing about this place – it’s come as you were.” from Dead Is Better (Charlie and Rose book 1)
The ‘efforts’ mentioned above are from the paramedics attempts to revive him, just so you know. Anyhoo, so yes, once you are dead you continue on in this other place ad infinitum, one assumes.
Now all of this would make for a pretty dull set of books wouldn’t it? It would be like reading the literary equivalent of watching paint dry, or watching rocks being eroded by the wind. But you see, Jo Perry isn’t that daft or lazy, oh no, she has given the terminally deceased Charlie a companion; the wonderful Rose. Rose is a dog – possibly a Red Setter. I dunno, I’m not very good at dogs. She appeared to Charlie when he arrived in the afterlife. He doesn’t know why, but there she is; rope around her neck and, in life at least, clearly neglected. Rose acts as Charlie’s spirit guide, I suppose; his conscience, steering him to look into and follow up the acts of those still living. She is an integral part of this series. Without her Charlie would just be sitting in his afterlife scratching is bum and picking at his bullet holes. She guides him where he is needed, even if he doesn’t want to be there.
Although Charlie can not directly influence the living, he can observe and follow. But there are instances in these books where he, or Rose, can interact and steer the course of events towards justice. This doesn’t break the rules that Jo has laid down in her world, but she cleverly finds ways to tweak them, shall we say.
Now, this isn’t a review of the whole series so I’ll stop recapping here and try to focus on this particular book.
Dead Is Beautiful may be the 4th book in the series, but as I have already mentioned, you don’t need to have read the others to enjoy this. I mean, you bloody well should, but you don’t need to. Jo sets the scene better than I ever could in the first chapter:
‘Once I was like you–– Warm. Loud and turbulent. Solid. Okay, I’ll admit it––not just “solid.” Fat. I was a fat, thirty-eight-year-old Caucasian male, Ashkenazi Jewish resident of Hollywood, California named Charles––no middle name––Stone. Now I’m something else.
And I no longer reside in Hollywood. It’s been years since I migrated here, and I still haven’t adjusted to the quiet–– The boundless and incessant Shut The Fuck Up–– Metabolism’s dull roar, the blooming of oxygenating cells, the rush of blood tides, and the crackling of synapses have been replaced by a mute and numbing absence that has nothing at all to do with peace. It’s so fucking quiet here that I can’t tell when I’m thinking or when I’m speaking––or where Rose and I end and the wordless void begins. Rose is the gentle, amiable, long-faced, sorrowful-eyed, emaciated, reddish long-haired dog curled head on paws––her default position––floating next to me. “You’re a good girl, Rosie,” I turn to her and say. “The best.” Rose’s feathery tail uncurls and swings back and forth. I’m not bullshitting, either––Rose is good. More than good. Hers is a thoroughly patient and wise benevolence. As if she reads my thoughts, Rose lifts her head, aims her dark, wide, questioning eyes at my faded green ones for a long moment, then assumes the downward dog pose––her paws resting on absolutely nothing––and stretches like a cat. Now Rose presses her bony head against my bullet-holed chest. I scratch the soft fur behind her ears with livid fingertips and she wags her tail again. In case you haven’t caught on yet––Rose and I are dead. We’re the not-dearly departed. We’re nobodies. Stiffs. I still don’t know if our stay here in the afterlife or purgatory or the hereafter or the great fucking beyond or whatever this place is is permanent––or if unknown and unknowable forces and powers are subjecting us to series of tests the results of which will determine our long-term relationship with eternity. Or maybe just mine alone. For all I know Rose may have her own separate deal going. But so far––in case you’re worried––death hasn’t been too complicated. Whatever you happen to think a “ghost” is will do when you think about Rose or me.
And there’s not much to know about my final exit except that I was alive and then I wasn’t. Rose’s extinction was different. Starving and thirsting to death are agonizing and slow. But her death meant something. Mine? My murder meant zilch. Maybe one living person––and she has since “moved on with her life”––gave a shit that I got popped one night in the middle of the street near Roscoe’s House of Chicken and Waffles in Hollywood.’
There, see, isn’t that better than my waffle? You can see from that just how eloquent and beautiful Jo’s prose is. Oh, that is the whole opening chapter, btw. Jo is the Queen of the short chapter, which means you fairly fly through her books.
You can probably tell from that that Charlie is our narrator through the book, and this is where Jo’s unique perspective wins for me. With most first person narratives I find that, as a reader, often I miss out on some parts of the story simply because the narrator cannot be everywhere all at once. Don’t get me wrong here; I’m not criticising the format at all, it’s just that sometimes I want to go off and follow the other characters and see what they’re up to. In the ‘Dead Is…’ books, we often do just that, but we continue to see it through the eyes of Charlie. He can’t just jump to wherever he wants to, but Rose nudges him in the right directions and Charlie follows them. It’s a great device and one that truly immerses you into the story. It also helps the HUGE sense of frustration that these books can instil in you. Oh my actual god, I have lost count of the many times that I have ‘urrrggggghhhh‘ed and ‘arrrrrrrggghhhhhh‘ed at Charlie’s inability to directly interact with the scumbags he encounters. You just wish he could develop poltergeist like powers, like those ghosts in the film ‘Ghost’, remember that? At least Patrick Swayze could move a penny up a door. Poor old Charlie can do diddly, but, as I’ve already mentioned he does find ways at times.
But this isn’t the point really. If he could chuck chairs at people, go ‘Boo!” or render them naked in front of everyone, these books would just be like any other book with a ghost in it. In these books it is the living who have to correct their own mistakes, find their own justice – maybe with a nudge from the afterlife, but certainly not because of it, and we go along for the ride.
In Dead Is Beautiful, Charlie and Rose find themselves back in ‘Beverly fucking Hills’, as he refers to it; the one place in the living world that Charlie really doesn’t like to be. Here lives his brother Mark, or his ‘shit brother’, and his wife Helen. They’re doing rather well for themselves and have all but forgotten about Charlie in the intervening years since his murder. But things are about to disturb this urban idyll that they have built for themselves and it all starts with a tree.
This tree is in the way of a new development and is in the process of being cut down when our story starts and Charlie and Rose arrive on the scene. Rose appears to be drawn to trouble, or if not trouble then those that need help, rather like the Doctor’s TARDIS. She seems to know why she is there even if Charlie is stumped and cannot see it. In this case it is the cutting down of the tree that seems to have stimulated her. It’s not just that the tree, a protected California Blue Oak, is being cut down, possibly illegally, but the fact that it has destroyed the nest of a California Spotted Owl – a rare and protected bird.
Whilst Rose hovers up in the branches of the stricken tree, and Charlie wonders what the hell Rose has dragged him into this time, beneath the tree we are introduced to Eleanor Starfeather (“one word, no space or hyphen”) who lives in her mother’s house on Gusty Acres Drive. Oh how I would kill to live on a street with a name like that 😂Eleanor is an environmentalist, witch, doula, and wearer of very few clothes; she clearly enjoys the feeling of the wind upon her flesh, and the more flesh the better it seems. She is passionate about protecting the tree, calling the police to report a ‘murder’ when the arborist refuses to heed her cries and continues to cut the tree down. Eleanor is a great character; headstrong, passionate and intelligent. She gets into some troubles along the way, but always from a desire to see justice done. She is currently house sitting a very plush place in Beverly Fucking Hills, but unbeknownst to Charlie it is his bother’s house. Ah, to say he is less than pleased about finding himself here is an understatement. Why, oh why, has Rose brought him here?
Charlie’s shit brother Mark is a massive tool really. He’s selfish and arrogant, and never lifted a finger to help Charlie in life. Most of this is detailed in the other books so you can discover the story for yourselves. You’re welcome 😉
There is another great character in this book who bears more than a passing resemblance to a certain Scottish publisher. I can’t quite put my finger on who that may be, but his kilted leg appears on the back cover of the book.
Our introduction to the wonderful McGurk, for ’tis his name, is via a wee prang between his and Mark’s car one rainy day. After being attacked by the owl, the first of many feathered attacks on his person, and hitting McGurk’s car, the following introductions are made by Charlie who, of course, is witness to it all:
‘My shit brother touches the hem of the bloodied towel and takes a cleansing breath. “We got off on the wrong foot.” He extends his hand through his window, faking a smile. “I’m Steve,” my brother lies. “What’s your name?”
“I’m Willy Wankstain, you fucking unhinged shite. Now show me your mangled head.”
There’s more honking and cursing from the drivers imprisoned southbound and eastbound, but “Mr. Wankstain” seems untroubled.’
Hahaha, as you can, subtle he is not 😂
And so a tug-of-war between Charlie’s desire to get the hell out of Beverly Fucking Hills and away from his brother and his wife, the owl’s desire to ‘avenge’ her fallen family, Rose’s instincts to follow those who need help whoever, or however undesirable, they may be, ensues. Oh, and speaking of undesirable, we are also introduced to Kim, a homeless woman, recently deceased in an arson attack. Kim is an interesting person, to say the least. She doesn’t really take kindly to being dead. She takes a shine to Rose though, as does Rose to her, and then she disappears with Kim, leaving Charlie all alone. Throughout the books Rose has a habit of vanishing for long periods, for reasons known to herself, but this time has she gone for good?
I truly love this series of books and I’ve tried not to review the entire series here. I think I mostly failed, but the take-away message from all of the above is this: BUY AND READ THESE BOOKS! You really do not have to read them in any order, this is as good as starting off point as any, but to leave out the other three is to leave out something truly special and unique. Jo’s writing is beautiful, concise and quite poetic. Seeing the events unfold through the eyes of the deceased Charlie Stone, whilst he is utterly incapable of doing anything about it all, allows us to see things from a perspective often denied to us by other first person narratives. Charlie possesses (haha, oh, I’m so clever), no supernatural powers at all. He can speak to other dead souls, on the very rare occasion he meets them, but it is only in the afterlife that he can touch and feel them (and in his case he has only Rose). In our realm he can do neither.
Dead Is Beautiful truly is a wonderful piece of fiction and a superb addition to the series. It is touching, intelligent, moving, funny, frustrating, unique and marvellous. I dare you not to fall in love with these books and with Charlie and Rose. They show no signs of slowing down, and with the odd little moment where our world and that of the dead crossover (such as in the seance scene in this book), Jo sets things up nicely for some intriguing prospects in future books without spoiling the mythology she has created.
Fahrenheit Press: http://www.fahrenheit-press.com/books_dead_is_beautiful.html
About Jo Perry:
Jo Perry earned a Ph.D. in English, taught college literature and writing, produced and wrote episodic television, and published articles, book reviews, and poetry.
She lives in Los Angeles with her husband, novelist Thomas Perry. They have two adult children. Their two dogs are rescues.
Jo is the author of DEAD IS BETTER, DEAD IS BEST, DEAD IS GOOD, and DEAD IS BEAUTIFUL, a dark, comic mystery series from Fahrenheit Press
As ever I am hugely grateful to Emma Welton (aka Damppebbles ace Twitterer and blog tour organiser extraordinaire), for having me on this tour. And of course, without Jo Perry herself, and her legendary publishers, Fahrenheit Press and Fahrenheit 13, there wouldn’t even be a book to tour.
Twitter: https://twitter.com/JoPerryAuthor @JoPerryAuthor