Play Dead, Stay Dead, Pretty Dead: Elise Sandberg Series (Anne Frasier)

4 Star Warning: Clicking through to Continue Reading will reveal spoilers.

The Elise Sandberg series got me through a horrific cold last weekend, and for that I am grateful. All three books were entertaining, with plot twists that kept throwing me for a loop. These were exactly the type of suspenseful crime stories that I needed to keep me sane while confined to bed for most of the weekend. While I hope none of my blog-visitors get sick, I would definitely recommend this series for those of you battling the beginning winter cold season. Along that thread, Frasier’s novels are exciting enough to bring spice to any boring day or event, whether you’re taking a long trip, snowed in, or otherwise unhappily stuck in one place.

The second book in the series, Stay Dead, definitely took the cake for me. This was my favorite, as it kept me on my toes and trying to piece together Elise’s experiences between the first two novels. After reading page 1 of Stay Dead, I actually closed out of the book on my Kindle and checked to make sure that I hadn’t accidentally skipped a book. I liked Frasier’s technique of not explaining what she was doing, and letting the reader figure out how much time had passed and what happened in that space. Frasier expertly leads you through what you need to know to become engaged in the mystery, without giving away too much too soon about what happened to Elise.

Crime novels, as much as I love them, often feature underdeveloped or shallow characters. In this series, Frasier deeply develops Elise and David’s characters, although she leaves much of the minor characters’ stories to the readers’ imagination. Sometimes this style of storytelling bothers me, but it did not so much in this case. Elise in particular has a very unique story, taking in elements of witchcraft and superstition that is uncommon to most literature that I read. At first I was a little turned off by Elise’s belief in these other-worldly ideals, probably because I am not at all open to such things, but her quirkiness grew on me as the story progressed.

Frasier also does a great job of incorporating Savannah, GA into her series, making it seem as if the city has a personality and a mind of its own. I liked the way the city’s history and ambience wormed its way deep into each of the storylines, and it actually made me want to go visit Georgia to see what all the fuss is about. As a comparison, I have read many books set in Seattle recently, and none of them were able to inspire the same interest in the city as Frasier has done in Savannah. I consider this a testament to her writing skill and ability to inspire an emotional response in her readers.  Frasier develops Savannah as more than just the setting, creating a unique atmosphere and feeling that persists throughout all three novels.

Warning: Spoilers past this point.

I liked the relationship development of David and Elise throughout the books. I thought that their ups and downs were very realistic to their situation, especially Elise’s attempts to deny their attraction for the sake of their professional partnership. I was also glad that David eventually turned to other women, as it would have been highly unrealistic for his character not to do so when continuously rebuffed by Elise. I was definitely surprised when Elise began to believe that David might be a murder after Hoffman’s death, as I really thought better of her judgement and her connection to him. For some reason, I was not rooting for Elise and David to actually get together until after he began seeing Hoffman. This might just be because I did not like Hoffman at all, and I wanted to see her taken down a notch.

I also liked Elise’s relationship with her daughter as a major theme of the series. They exhibited the typical ups and downs of mother-daughter relationships, familiar to all who have been on either side of the equation.  I did think it was somewhat of a cop out for Frasier to stick the mending of their relationship in that undefined space between books one and two. At the end of Play Dead, Elise and Audrey had this complicated relationship strained by Elise’s need to prioritize work over family, with Audrey overwhelmingly preferring to live with her father and stepmother. All of a sudden, Stay Dead begins and they have a loving relationship – Audrey has moved into Elise’s home full time and they are well on their way to becoming the next Lorelei and Rory. Maybe it’s just me, but I felt that Frasier could have developed that story a little bit more. The only saving grace here was that Elise had been kidnapped and tortured – Frasier might have felt that the reparation of Elise and Audrey’s relationship was unavoidable in light of this occurrence, and it would have been too unrealistic to put it somewhere else in the timeline.

I thought that Pretty Dead was very predictable. From the very first chapter, I knew that Jay Thomas was the murderer. Maybe Frasier meant to make it so obvious by including the crossword solving ability of the unnamed killer and that of Jay Thomas in back to back beginning chapters, but I would have much preferred if she hadn’t done that. There were a few times throughout the novel that I considered the possibility that it was not him, but not in a serious enough way to change my mind. Like many, one of the major reasons that I love crime novels is because I like to try to solve the mystery before the book’s end, and Pretty Dead was just too easy.

On the other hand, Play Dead was exceptionally unpredictable – Marie Luna came out of nowhere for me. After Frasier revealed Marie’s existence, I remembered just enough clues to see that there was definitely potential to guess the truth, but I never saw it coming. Play Dead was an excellent story, and really had everything I was looking for in a crime novel. If you are like me, you will love Play Dead and Stay Dead, and then read Pretty Dead to finish off the series.




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