Book Review: J.N. Duncan’s The Vengeful Dead

Posted October 4, 2014 by Kathy Davie in Book Reviews

I received this book for free from the library in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Book Review: J.N. Duncan’s The Vengeful Dead

The Vengeful Dead


J.N. Duncan

urban fantasy that was published by Kensington Books on October 1, 2011 and has 352 pages.

Explore it on Goodreads or Amazon.

Other books by this author which I have reviewed include Deadworld, The Lingering Dead

Second in the Jackie Rutledge urban fantasy series and revolving around Jackie Rutledge, a grief-stricken FBI agent based in Chicago. The story touches on Jackie and Nick as a couple.

The Vengeful Dead is one of my contributions to Paranormal Cravings‘ Dangerous Heroes challenge.

My Take

I liked the first story better. Of course I read it three years ago, so who knows how much I actually remember. Jackie irritates me in this one. Sure, I understand that she’s lost her partner of many years, but god, she’s so whiny. I know that depression can grab on to you and drag you down. I understand that Jackie is having to deal with some new “gifts”. Gifts that shouldn’t be that strange to her as she worked actively with Laurel who used the same type of gifts. Maybe it’s just that it’s all hitting her at once.

So, back to that leetle complication of Laurel’s death and her transference of her powers to Jackie. Yep, the same psychic skills she made such fun of when Laurel was alive. Which leads to that trope I hate so much. The I-have-all-these-new-powers-that-I-refuse-to-learn-to-use-even-if-they’ll-save-my-ass trope. I wanna smack her upside the head! Jeez, Jackie is such a mess. Yeah, the new “gifts” have impressed Nick and Shelby — they’ve never seen anything like it.

I thoroughly understand her needing to go back to work, to immerse herself. I bury myself in my work all the time. But Jackie, in spite of this great and desperate need, is fighting against Dr. Erikson so hard, it makes ya itch. Then again, it’s so much easier when it’s someone else sitting in that chair, being vulnerable. I don’t think the doc is helping though when she’s threatening Jackie.

“‘…the point is not for me to know it’ she replied. ‘The point is to put your issues into your own words, to let someone else hear them, and know that you aren’t so utterly alone and helpless as you feel right now.'”

The part that bugs me is Jackie is almost desperate enough to kill to get back to work, and all she has to do is spill her guts to get the doc to sign her back in. And she won’t do it. She spends more time battling the doc and her past than jumping through the obstacles that stand in her way.

I do love that, even as she’s fighting Dr. Erikson, she’s getting her own revelations about the impact Laurel had on her life as she realizes what a schmuck she was. I wonder if that tease about Jack being broken will lead to further insight into her past, her future, her gifts, her…?

We get more information in this story about the FBI’s acceptance of psychic actions. Laurel’s success rate and Nick’s efforts in Deadworld, 1, to save Jackie have made quite the impression. Still, it’s interesting that Nick is so familiar with Belgerman. Familiar enough to call on his phone whenever and call him John, the incredibly easygoing, unFBI-like John. The closest the FBI comes to being the uptight agency we know from most fiction is at the end. And even that is low-key with an ulterior motive.

For such a confident guy, Nick is amazingly reticent about going after Jackie. Although, then again, he is planning for the long-term, lol.

How does Rosa know so many tricks already? She’s not sane or rational, so I don’t believe she read the handbook or anything. Not that I blame her because I gotta say, I’m with Rosa on this. But I think she went overboard on it. Killing all those innocents, having no regard for the person she possessed. Why does no one wonder where Rosa went when her “possession” died? That scene at the end in the confrontation over Rosa’s baby? How does Rosa not react to her baby not screaming?

I wish Duncan had given us background on Rosa and the guy killed with her. Who were the living who failed? Who should have protected him? She’s projecting her own anger onto her baby, and I can’t help but think that Duncan needs to work on this part of the story. He relies on a mother’s rage for everything. We have to learn why her killer came after her from someone else. Nor does it sound as if Rosa had “tried to do right” in her life as she claims.

Jeez, that little snitfit Jackie has in the office… Doesn’t she realize that the work continues even if she’s off? Admittedly, being out of the office isn’t her choice, but still. I’m having a really hard time feeling bad for Jackie.

Oh, yeah, I also want to know who the beastie is who’s chasing all the ghosts in Deadworld…

The Story

It’s a horrific murder of a mother and her child that sets this ghost off on her murderous rampage of revenge. It’s her pain that pulls Nick and Shelby in. That and the desperate need to save whoever the ghost has possessed.

Another pain, Jackie’s, pulls Nick into her orbit, or her mess of an apartment at least. He doesn’t care. He’s been there too many times himself.

The Characters

Normally, Jackie Rutledge drowns her past in her work and her piano playing, but with the loss of her best and only friend and partner, Laurel, there is no work. They’ve forced her to take compassionate leave and see the FBI’s shrink. Now she drowns her grief in the booze she loves so well. Bickerstaff is her cat. Her stepfather, Carl, was a cop and abused his wife until she killed herself.

Laurel Carpenter was her partner and a psychic who sensed ghosts. And she was murdered by Cornelius Drake on their last case in Deadworld. Sam and Beatrice Carpenter are Laurel’s parents, and they’ve sent her a package.

John Belgerman is Jackie’s boss and an incredibly understanding one, a father figure. Special Agent Ryan McManus is Jackie’s new partner from San Francisco where he worked gang enforcement. He gets dropped into the deep end! He’s divorced and gets weekends with his daughter, Amanda. Dr. Matilda “Tillie” Erikson is the office shrink, who’s actually very insightful. Denny is the photographer who sneaks information to Jackie. Captain Pernetti is the token jerk agent, AND he’s in charge of this case. Wendall and Jenkins are on it too. Hauser.

The Chicago PD
Detective Thomas Morgan has a problem, only he doesn’t know it will be a very short term one. Detective Frank “Sock” Wysocki is Morgan’s partner, I think. Both detectives are with the Joint Violent Crimes Task Force.

Beverly Morgan is his wife who works as an office manager in an accounting firm. Even though she’s filed for a separation, she still loves him.

Nick Anderson was a sheriff in Wyoming in 1862. Now he’s a vampire. He’s had plenty of time to accumulate a great deal of knowledge which he’s parlayed into a substantial fortune and Bloodwork Industries, another of his companies working on a synthetic blood he developed as a biochemist. He’s also a concert pianist and a gourmet cook with great lockpicking skills.

Specialty Investigations…
…is Nick’s private eye firm which specializes in ghostly issues. Shelby Fontaine was brought over by Nick in the 1930s when she lay bleeding out. Lovers for a time, they’re friends now, and Shelby is in a relationship with the dead Laurel. Cynthia is a medium who’s a flesh-and-blood human in unrequited love with Nick and works in his firm as his secretary. Reggie was a ghost from Nick’s sherrifin’ days.

The Almighty Latin Kings
The Raging Bull is a popular hangout for the Kings. Hector, Eduardo, Rennie Vasquez, Loopy, Miguel, Maria, and Manuel “Steel-Toe” Juarez are all members. Rosa Sanchez was pregnant and a former gang member. Antonio would have been the baby’s name.

Gladys Wainwright is a friend of Nick’s and the senator’s wife. Adam Parker is the director of the Arts Center; his wife is Dorothy. Melanie Armond is a cancer survivor and the artist. The Reverend Michael Chambers allows access to the pipe organ at Rockefeller Chapel.

Philip Margolin is with the Chicago Tribune and can’t take no for an answer.

The Cover and Title

The cover is greens and yellows with the misty ground giving a sense of Deadworld. I suspect it’s Laurel in the background, looking quite sexy in her form-fitting white wifebeater, pouting sexily at Jackie who’s dressed in FBI standard issue — not — black short leather motorcycle jacket, a form-fitting black cropped tank top with a plunging neckline baring a whole lotta tummy as she holds her Glock at her side.

The title is about Rosa, for she’s The Vengeful Dead, intent on revenge.