Kincaid Strange is a 27-year-old woman who’s one of the only “zombie practitioners” in the Seattle area. She can temporarily (or permanently, for that matter) raise people from the dead, which is clearly handy when you want to temporarily raise a rich old man and ask him to amend his will in order to avoid a family lawsuit. Lipstick Voodoo (2019) opens with just such a scene, with a crotchety old man who’s not impressed with his family’s reasons for raising him from the dead, and an impressively sleazy lawyer.
The laws against paranormal dealings have been relaxed somewhat due to the fallout from the events of The Voodoo Killings, the first book in this KINCAID STRANGE urban fantasy series (obligatory spoiler warning here for that book). Unfortunately Kincaid still has a boatload of problems, many of which resulted from the events in that prior book. She has an on-again-off-again boyfriend, Aaron, a police detective whose new chief hates the paranormal division. So Kincaid’s best client, the police force, won’t hire her as a consultant any more, and Aaron is caught between his boss and his former girlfriend. The vengeful ghost of a powerful sorcerer, Gideon Lawrence, is massively unhappy with Kincaid, particularly since she burned a body that Gideon was planning on taking over and inhabiting.
What Gideon doesn’t yet know ― and Kincaid is afraid he’ll find out, since Gideon is entirely capable of choking her to death with a hair dryer cord or some other household object ― is that the body in question was accidentally taken over by another ghost, Kincaid’s roommate Nathan Cade, a grunge rocker who’s been dead (but not gone) for twenty years. Now instead of a ghost for a roommate Kincaid has a zombie, and one whose body is starting to rapidly deteriorate. Even the brain Slurpees (YUM) aren’t helping Nate’s body much. Despite her magical power and expertise in All Things Zombie, Kincaid can’t figure out how to untie Nate from this gradually decaying body.
In the middle of this, Aaron unexpectedly offers Kincaid a job helping him investigate a cold case, the apparent murder of a musician, Damien Fell, which occurred over twenty years ago. Nate once knew Damien; he claims not to know anything about Damien’s death, but he’s clearly hiding something important from Kincaid. As Kincaid digs deeper into the case, interviewing Nate’s old girlfriend Mindy and his bandmate and drummer Cole, people start dying in gruesome ways.
It’s always exciting when the sequel is better than the first book in a series, and that’s how I felt about Lipstick Voodoo. This one gets points for really sucking me into the story, much more than The Voodoo Killings. I had a couple of issues with the underlying logic of the mystery. For one thing, Damien Fell is described as a “devout Mormon” who never drank alcohol or even coffee or tea ― one of the reasons his death from a heroin overdose is suspicious. Yet Damien is also supposed to have been “hooking up” with Mindy before his death, which would contradict his character as a devout Mormon. There’s also an undeniably creepy demon-like power from the Otherside (the spiritual dimension) called Eloch, with black, smoky tendrils that reach out and freeze their victim, but the powers it displays didn’t seem to mesh very well when the answer to the mystery of Eloch was finally revealed.
These quibbles aside, Lipstick Voodoo wove a compelling mystery that kept me glued to its pages. It’s interesting reading a zombie fantasy where the zombies are the more sympathetic characters; it’s mostly the humans and the odd wraith and ghoul that cause the real trouble. As I mentioned in my review of The Voodoo Killings, Kristi Charish‘s writing is reasonably good. She’s not using any poetic language, evocative imagery or other literary tricks, just straightforwardly telling a story. So this is a fairly light, quick read.
Which brings me to my final quibble: reading the two books in this series back-to-back, I noticed a couple of places where Charish uses almost word-for-word the same language in both books to describe some secondary characters, including entire paragraphs. It struck me as a bit lazy or sloppy.
Several elements of the plot in Lipstick Voodoo hang heavily off of events from The Voodoo Killings, and there’s a lot of significant character development that carries over from that first book as well. In fact, I started reading this book before I’d read the first one, but called a halt about 100 pages in because so much of the plot relies on understanding events and characters from The Voodoo Killings. So I went and read that book and then started this one over again. Hence, I’d very strongly recommend reading the books in this KINCAID STRANGE series in order.