The first book in the Deadwood Mysteries series is Nearly Departed in Deadwood.
OPTICAL DILULLISIONS could technically be viewed as a stand alone read, but characters and events from the first book are mentioned casually, so it is best to read the books in order.
Violet Parker has more or less settled into her realtor job at Calamity Jane's Realty, but is keen to prove that her recent sale wasn't just a one off, or is because of her personal friendship with Doc. So when a woman and her daughter ask for Violet to sell their family home in nearby town Lead, she is eager to jump in and get started. The house is large, beautifully decorated and her prospective clients are willing to sell cheaply to get rid of the house quickly. Violet's luck is about to change for the better...
Or not. The reason that her would-be clients have approached a out-of-town realtor is because the four other companies they've already gone to in won't sign them on. The reason? The house was the scene of a murder-suicide of the home owner and his adult son just months before. Calamity Jane's Star realtor Ray tells Violet not to take the clients on as no-one will buy the house, and having it on their books will look bad for the company as a whole. Violet's mentor Mona agrees with Ray, which is unsettling for Violet.
Violet is going to turn the women away, but feels sorry for them and their predicament. And with no other houses on her books ready to sell anytime soon, her uninsured daughter suddenly needing glasses, a desire to prove Ray wrong and with her stressed boss being dragged through the divorce court by her money grabbing, cheating ex, Violet soon weakens and takes on the new challenge.
The widow claims to communicate with the ghost of the original homeowner, a claim which Doc backs up by also claiming to see the same ghost when Violet asks him to look around the house. Violet doesn't believe in ghosts, but as her nerves are already stretched, she is little bit freaked. Then top everything off, the mayor of Lead takes a sudden interest in her and the house, she meets the shady and bullying former daughter-in-law of the widow whose house house Violet is trying to sell, someone is spreading rumours that Violet speaks to ghosts, Violet finds herself with a demon worshipping stalker and she has to pluck up the courage to tell her lifelong friend that she is sleeping with said friends dream man...
Violet is suffering from nightmares from the events in the last book [Nearly Departed in Deadwood], which shows a bit more realism than just bouncing back and being ready her next misadventure, with no lessons being learnt along the way. The events and characters of the previous book do come up in lots of Violet's thoughts, so it helps to tie the books together and prevents the author from having to force in character conversations, where they fill in readers memory gaps.
Violet's best-friend-since-childhood Natalie was the only character who I thought didn't really get to do anything in the previous book, so it is nice to have her more included this time as Violet's partner-in-sleuthing. Plus by including her more we also get more Doc, who was still a mystery by the end of the previous book. That's not to say that we now learn everything about either of them and have future plot points laid out, but now the lack of knowledge is intriguing, instead of me not really being interested in them and not seeing them as people with feelings.
As this is only the second book in the series, I don't yet have any real complaints about how the author is using her secondary characters yet, but I will be watching how Violet's co-workers evolve in future books, especially Ray. Whilst Ray does have a bad attitude towards Violet, I have to be fair and point out that he is right in some of his grievances towards her; Violet does manage to have personal friendships with all of her clients, for one reason or another. He just has the reasons all wrong. He is also sort-of-right about who she is sleeping with - even though she continues to deny that she is doing so. I would definitely like to see him be allowed to grow in future books, so we can see what kind of person he is outside of his feud with Violet, as I suspect that he is actually a on-the-ball guy and has hidden depths.
As I mentioned above, OPTICAL DILULLISIONS manages to be a singular mystery and still connect to the first book in the series. Although reality is stretched already at this point in the series, it just wouldn't be at all realistic how she innocently stumbles into these separate situations randomly. I can't really explain what I mean without listing parts of the books and spoiling things, so I'm afraid that you are all just going to have to take my ramblings on the set-up.
The ghost angle was something that took me by surprise in the previous book and I didn't really know what to think about it at first, but I've decided that I love it - so far at least. The fact that it isn't Violet who can sense ghosts [remember that she doesn't believe in them] leaves the question of is it real hanging. Doc could be mistaken in his 'abilities', he may be mentally ill, or maybe he's even faking it for a as yet unknown reason. It'll be very interesting to follow whichever direction the author takes this particular plot in future books.
One of the book's biggest strengths is that it manages to weave in several threads, which will be parts of a few different ongoing story arcs. The basic plot opens and concludes in this one book, but these cleverly inserted threads offer intriguing glimpses into the mysteries surrounding Deadwood, which will control the directions of future books and leave readers thinking about the books after they've finished reading them, as we try to piece things together.