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Strange Country (Hallie Michaels) Hardcover – May 27, 2014
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“A startlingly original book.” ―Booklist on Wide Open
“Magic blows through Deborah Coates' Wide Open like the violent thunderstorms of the high plains. This contemporary fantasy is the very best of its genre, from its cinematic landscape, to the compelling twists of the plot, to the building relationships between characters that leap off the page to live in the imagination. Very, very highly recommended. The best contemporary fantasy you'll read this year.” ―Sarah Prineas, author of The Magic Thief, on Wide Open
“Wide Open is a good read--full of sound and fury, ghosts and fire. A tough, tenacious heroine who relies on guts and brains rather than awesome cosmic superpowers. I loved it. Deborah Coates is a storyteller in the best sense of the word.” ―Patricia Briggs, New York Times bestselling author, on Wide Open
“[The setting] sticks with you, and the lead character of Hallie does too. . . . Compelling.” ―Kendare Blake, author of Anna Dressed in Blood, on Wide Open
“A story about the sense of community and steadfastness present in the Midwest. . . . In times of trouble, we turn to one another and show our true (and hopefully best) selves. Coates captures this beautifully.” ―The Gazette (Cedar Rapids, Iowa) on Wide Open
About the Author
DEBORAH COATES lives in Ames, Iowa, and works for Iowa State University. She is the author of Wide Open, Deep Down, and Strange Country. Her short fiction has appeared in Asimov's and Strange Horizons, as well as Year's Best Fantasy 6, Best Paranormal Romance, and Best American Fantasy.
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Top Customer Reviews
If you’re caught up with this series, then you know what Hallie Michaels has been through, and she’s still a little on edge from a certain risky decision she made in order to save the man she loves, which happens to be Boyd Davies. As Boyd starts his own investigation into the shooting, Hallie is having problems of her own. Someone is leaving notes just outside the hex ring around her property, saying things like “It’s time to face your fear” and a set of map coordinates, and phone calls of the same nature. Hallie thinks this is odd, because if Hallie is anything, it’s someone that has no problem facing her fears. In fact, when there’s a problem, she runs headlong into it. Since actually dying while in the service in Irag, she’s been able to see ghosts, and she’s also been asked, by Death himself, for a “favor” of sorts. He’s going to want an answer soon, but Hallie doesn’t really think the notes and calls have anything to do with Death, so this is just another strange thing add to her growing list of worries.
As Boyd digs deeper into the murder investigation, he comes across stones that seem to be able to store magic, and when the body count begins to grow, he must find out what links the dead and of course, why someone would want them dead to begin with.
Hallie would like nothing more than to spend some quiet time with Boyd, and enjoy the ranch (complete with horses) that she recently inherited. It isn’t much, but she loves it like she loves the wide open skies of West Prairie City, South Dakota. However, the mysterious notes and a visit (and unusual request) from a blast from Hallie’s recent past will keep her plenty busy, as well as helping Boyd get to the bottom of the recent murders and of course, the magic stones.
When I start a Hallie Michaels book, I know that it won’t be long before I’m entranced by Hallie’s quiet strength and the wonderful world that Deborah Coates has created with this series. These books satisfy my love for mystery, and the liberal addition of ghosts, reapers, and the like, is like icing on a particularly tasty cupcake. Hallie’s rather charming “canine” companion, who she calls Maker, is ever present and provides help in its usual cryptic way (it’s a harbinger, and for some reason chooses to stick around, which Hallie finds that she’s more than ok with), and underscoring the decidedly creepy events is Hallie’s very real desire to settle down and make a life in WPC, hopefully with Boyd, and she’ll do just about anything to make that happen. I love this subtle series, rich with magical realism and the beauty of the Midwest, and if you haven’t discovered Hallie and her friends, I urge you to get a hold of all three books, and hunker down, because they’re addictive. I’m hoping that Deborah Coates has more plans for this series, because I’ll be the first in line for the next book.
So, read the first two books in the series before you get to this one, and the experience will be much more rewarding (all three books are good).
There's not as much in the way of character development in this book as in previous volumes, simply because we got to know Hallie Michaels (female protagonist, Afghanistan vet) pretty well in the first book and we delved in to Boyd Davies's background (male protagonist, sheriff's deputy) in book two. Since we already know them, there isn't a lot to add (although Boyd does come to terms in this volume with a few things from book 2 that he hadn't previously acknowledged). We do learn more about some of the town's other residents, including Laddie Kennedy, Tel Sigurdson, and Prue Stalking Horse (all mentioned or making appearances in previous books).
One major difference this time around is that we have a lot of scenes with Boyd as the POV character. That threw me a little at first, because it wasn't something I was used to, but it makes sense. Hallie's and Boyd's paths cross on a regular basis, but they each have their own tasks to accomplish in this book, so their overarching storylines are basically separate. Despite the separation, I didn't feel like I was reading two books smashed together. Hallie played a key role in resolving the case Boyd was working on, and a figure from Boyd's past is important to Hallie's quest. At any rate, there were enough crossover points that the two stories went together well to form a cohesive whole. I did expect a bit more danger for Hallie when she went to take care of her unfinished business than she actually experienced, but the tension in the latter half of the book was still excellent (as it was in the two previous volumes in this series).
I can't say much about language and setting that I haven't already said, but again, I felt that both were realistic and appropriate. Hallie has her own ranch at the start of this book and once again, we're treated to discussions of repairing fences, feeding and training horses, and more. But it all fits, and the author doesn't dwell on any one aspect of South Dakota ranch life for too long. I'm starting to have a real sense of what the lives of people in that area are like. So setting is very well done. The writing mostly fades into the background (with perhaps a handful of run-on sentences) and does what it's supposed to do -- tell the story.
We learn about additional supernatural influences in the world in this book. Book 1 covered ghosts and "black" magic, book 2 was all about death and the underworld, and book 3 continues themes from book 2 as well as connecting back to events from book 1 and adding new elements (charged magic stones that confer powers to people who already have something of an affinity for the supernatural, as well as "unmakers" -- a class of underworld entity we haven't met before). I like how Boyd and Hallie learn about the stones bit by bit and how the story of the stones relates to one explanation of events mentioned in book 1. I don't know whether the author planned this or not, but if I was told that she had, I would certainly believe it.
As far as magic goes, once again we're reminded of how important people and places are. We're taken to a magically-charged location we visited in the first book, as well as to a new location with mystical connotations. And we, along with Boyd, slowly make the magical connections among longtime town residents. It's not just that magic can happen anywhere, but there's something about this particular location and its history, as well as the group of people who have found their ways here, that stands out.
The (mundane) mystery investigation is also very well done. There are numerous clues as well as a few well-placed red herrings, and while I wasn't surprised by the identity of the culprit, I didn't necessarily see it coming, either.
I seem to recall a few 4-letter words, and there were a couple of sex scenes (not terribly explicit), but nothing seemed gratuitous or out of place. Everything was believable in terms of what we already knew about the characters.
The only thing I wasn't thrilled about was that, despite a build-up involving a lot of mysterious notes placed in Hallie's yard, she seemed to have an easy time fulfilling her personal quest. I guess the build-up was bigger than the payoff, is what I'm trying to say. In a sense, I can see what the author was doing -- making a case for facing our fears. Sometimes the end result is not as bad as we think it will be. And Hallie's internal conflict before the end of her quest was an interesting look at her character. At any rate, I can see strengths and weaknesses for any possible approach to resolution here.
Overall, I'm happy to have been introduced to this series. I'm looking forward to reading more by Deborah Coates, whether it be a further volume featuring Hallie and Boyd or something new. Recommended.
Review copy provided by the publisher.