review: the dead play on

The Dead Play On by Heather Graham (2015)

This is the third book in Heather Graham’s paranormal suspense series set in New Orleans and featuring Danni Cafferty and Michael Quinn.  Danni and Quinn, with the help of police detective Jake Larue and the rest of the supporting cast, work on cases that involve objects embued with evil or that have some sort of paranormal power and capturing those individuals who would use the objects for murder, mayhem and terror. In that way it reminds of my Warehouse 13 on Syfy.  Although the first two books in this series had definite paranormal elements, The Dead Play On is more rooted in the everyday world, and while there is still an object that is the focal point of the mystery and the murderer, readers who aren’t big fans of paranormal stories would find pleasure in this particular story.

Like the first two books, part of the story arc involves a quest for the object of power.  In The Dead Play On, that object is a saxophone that was played by Arnie Watson, a veteran returned home to New Orleans who was working as a musician in the city’s music scene.  The music scene within the city makes up much of the backdrop of the book, and the city’s musicians make up the group of suspects and victims.  The murderer wants the saxophone because Arnie had always called it his “special sax” and the murderer believes it has magic, a magic that makes the person playing the instrument a great musician.  This is what motivates the murderer–he wants the saxophone so that he can be a great musician and so that others will actually “see” him.  Because Graham has chosen a third-person narrative style for these books, readers are able to get a glimpse of the murder’s mind every now and then, and we learn that one of the things that drives the murderer is his sense of feeling invisible.  If only he can find Arnie’s “special sax” he won’t have to be invisible anymore, and he’s willing to do anything–including kill–to obtain the instrument.

In order to capture the murderer, Danni and Quinn immerse themselves in the music scene.  Quinn plays the guitar and begins sitting in with the band, and Danni sings backup vocals.  The device helps them to interview potential suspects and victims and learn more about Arnie Watson and his special sax, which everyone who knew him had heard him play and talk about.  Danni and Quinn are a couple, and one of the arcs in the story is the internal struggle Quinn wages with himself between protecting Danni and trusting in her ability to take care of herself.  With the third-person narrative, Graham switches between Danni’s and Quinn’s points-of-view, and this book seems to spend more time telling the story from Quinn’s perspective.  He’s definitely more the main character in this book, but this was something I enjoyed, being able to learn more about him and seeing his character developed and fleshed out a little more. While talking about characters, the supporting cast for this series is also further developed and you learn a little bit more about most of them, particularly Billie, whose experience with the bagpipes allows him to be able to play the saxophone.  At times, there are a lot of characters to keep up.  Between the usual supporting cast and the cadre of musicians there are a lot of people to keep up with, but Graham succeeds in giving most of them distinct enough personalities that you can keep them straight in your mind as you read along.

The revelation of the murderer was no surprise for me.  I had figured out the murderer’s identity about halfway through the book, though I can’t say anything in particular gave it away, maybe just experience reading detective fiction.  Even with this knowledge, though, the story is nicely paced and once it does finally reach the points of crisis and showdown, Graham doesn’t rush unwinding these pivotal points in the story. The final denouement where the remaining loose ends get tied up once again happens with the all of the characters gathered together in the style of Hercule Poirot.  It’s a satisfying conclusion to the book and at the end I was more invested in the characters and want to see more of them.  This is definitely a point in this series’ favor, since recently I have started a lot of series and not found a whole lot to like for one reason or another.

If you like suspense I would say give this series a try.  The first book is Let the Dead Sleep followed by Waking the Dead (which I think is my favorite of three books so far), and though I would recommend reading them in order, Graham does a good job of hinting at the previous cases while not spoiling anything about them.


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