Less than Dead, by Tim Downs (Thomas Nelson, 2008)
A multi-million-dollar building project is stalled when excavators clearing the forest discover an old graveyard… and some of the graves have a second body buried on top of the casket. What better place for a murderer to dispose of a body than in a graveyard?
Nick Polchak is a forensic entomologist – meaning he studies the insects on and around a corpse to determine time of death and if the place of death is the same as where the body was found. He’s brilliant, but short on social skills, which makes him a funny man to read about.
Nick is called to the excavation site to help determine how long the victims’ skeletons have been in the ground. It looks like a serial killer’s work, but is this someone from the past, or someone who’s still around?
Problem is, he can’t do his job until the other graves are identified and marked – or so insists the expert whose cadaver dog seems unable to find anything it can’t see. In desperation, Nick enlists a local woman whose uncanny, three-legged dog really does seem able to find the dead.
Alena Savard is a reclusive young woman living on the mountain above the Virginia town of Endor – feared by the people as a witch, but really a gifted dog trainer who’s been hurt and shunned by the townsfolk since her childhood.
Nick’s investigation puts Alena in danger, and her dogs may not be enough to save her – although they do a good job of protecting her from Nick’s initial attempts to meet her.
Less than Dead is a fun suspense novel with clever descriptions and plenty of funny lines. Most of these are too long to quote, but here’s one of my favourites describing “Marge,” the expert dog handler who so annoys Nick:
[Her face] was long and thin with high cheekbones that ran down into sinewy sunken hollows like wax dripping over a ledge. [Kindle page 25]
I’m not reading this series in order, but I really enjoy both the stories and the characters. Less than Dead is the fourth in the Bug Man series. Currently there are six, the last of which, Nick of Time, released in 2011. I hope we’ll see a new one soon. As well as writing Christian fiction, Tim Downs is the co-author with his wife, Joy, of non-fiction books on relationships.
[Review copy from my personal library.]