"The Dead Room" by Heather Graham is the third book in the Harrison Investigations series and it starts out with an incredibly talky first chapter in which an explosion destroys Graham's stand-in Leslie MacIntyre's life. The explosion almost kills her, while killing four others, including Matt Connolly, her fiancé.
The novel proper then starts one year later as Leslie has become a cadaver dog, or a forensic anthropologist, specializing in old cemetery digs. Then she is called back to Manhattan to help investigate and excavate a newly found cemetery. She also finds that she is to stay at the Hastings House, the same building in which the explosion that had killed Matt had occurred. We also find that Leslie can see, and communicate with the dead. Recent dead, ancient dead, any and all dead, and she's hoping that Matt will communicate with her. No luck at first, but she does see a little girl at the cemetery dig who only wants to rest in eternity with her mother.
Meanwhile, Matt's cousin, Joe Connolly, has been hired by socialite Eileen Brideswell to find her estranged niece Genevieve O'Brien. Over the last couple of years there has been a series of disappearances of prostitutes; Matt was investigating these before he was murdered, and Genevieve was attempting to help some of the prostitutes when she was disappeared. He is also doing an investigation of the explosion that killed his cousin.
Joe is gathering information on the disappearances from other street walkers, and eventually as Leslie investigates the explosion, she and Joe's investigations start to braid themselves together.
While Joe is developing a serious lust for Leslie, Leslie's heart is still owned by Matt. Then Matt starts to contact Leslie through a series of hot wet sex dreams (?), but is it Matt or just, umm, wishful thinking? Maybe the latter, as we often get scenes told through Matt's viewpoint, and it seems, at first he's unaware of Leslie's hot dreamworks. But, she does seem to get that he's there, even though at first Matt's cousin Joe is unconvinced that she "sees" anything at all.
As the investigation into the cemetery and Matt's death continue, there are some attempts on Leslie's life. It seems that the kidnapper is still out there and now s/he's targeting Leslie, and you would think that this would make the novel even more interesting.
The problem is that never, at any point does this novel give the impression that Graham is doing anything more than phoning in a formula and bland timekiller. The suspense? Bland, much menacing behavior, but you see more in any television show, not that there's anything here at all anyway. The hot sex? Perfunctory, gotta have a scene or two, so let's insert a couple, dumb as they may be. After one sex scene involving Matt's ghost and Leslie, she sees him near a fireplace and he's surprised that she can see his ghost, therefore allowing us to come to the conclusion that these hot scenes are no more than Leslie's dream fantasies meant to pad out the novel's length.
Leslie is a forensic anthropologist but you will learn more from any episode of "Bones" than you will learn from this whole novel about her chosen field of endeavor.
It just seems to take forever for anything interesting to actually happen
after the initial explosion. Second, Leslie as a character, just doesn't seem very bright, as she's your typically cliché romantic damsel. Despite many attempts on her life she seems blithely unaware of what's going on around her, and when she's warned not to go someplace alone, off she goes and does it again, and puts herself in danger again.
There's clichéd and sloppy storytelling galore. Reporters using cameras with flashbulbs; historic houses are attacked with pickaxes, and nobody makes a fuss; hospital candy stripers; hookers with hearts of gold; Leslie conveniently stumbling over hidden entrances, twice, Leslie tripping and falling down, etc. A good example of sloppy storytelling is when much is made about finding a church ledger and while she's reading it she gets beaned by some masonry. When she's found by her workmates she's someplace other than where the masonry hit her and the book is gone. And yet, this book, which is important in that it was to be used to track down Mary's ancestry, is then completely forgotten. This book is filled with such sloppy, inconsistent, and hackneyed writing.
Joe's storyline was a bit more interesting, even if his abrasive, and borderline abusive, alpha dog behavior and his mooning after his cousin's wife just becomes tiresome after a while.
Then there's ending. Egads ma'am, it's idiotic. In a nutshell, the killer is kidnapping prostitutes to torture, debase, and rape because he's impotent and can't get it up. Huh? What part of impotent does Graham not understand? Then there's the reason for the explosion. The killer is trying to kill somebody so that he won't have to kill her later. Yeah, it doesn't make any sense to me either.
The plot is formula, the storytelling is pedestrian, the suspense is marginal, the romance is tangential, and the effect is that this is a seventy or eighty page novella in an almost four hundred page container, padded to give us the impression that there is more here than what there really is. You will get more suspense from any episode of "Medium" and more romance from any episode of "The Ghost Whisperer" than you will get here.
Graham continues to write novels that sound more interesting than they really are. This is my third, and they've gotten progressively worse. A writer who seems to think writing is to hack out a plot and jot it down on a napkin, turn it over to her children's or grand-children's kindergarten class to write, then only peruse it long enough to make sure the nouns and verbs are in the correct order before she sends it off to her publisher. Graham is supposed to be a pro for gosh sakes!
You would think over the years Graham would get better at this writing thing, but she seems to be getting worse, this is just an old one-hundred and fifty page overblown romantic thriller in a near four-hundred page container.
Perhaps if Ms. Graham would just take the time to really develop her plots instead hacking out so much rubbish for the easily amused she'd actually turn out something worth reading. If I sound harsh, then it's just that I've spent way too much time in hospitals, and I'm way too old to give excuses to a writer whose storytelling skills seem to be devolving. It took me three weeks to read the large print version, and I kept finding things, like cleaning my cat's litter box, to do than read this.
Even the quote that opens this review, and it's one of the most interesting sentences in this novel shows how bland this novel is.