Utterly Heartless / Jan Underwood
(read as ebook -- approx. 188 p.)
In 2007, I read this author's first book, Day Shift Werewolf, which was a previous winner of the absolutely insane 3 Day Novel competition. I really enjoyed it, though it was a set of linked short stories rather than a straightforward novel.
So when I had the chance to read Utterly Heartless, a new novel by the same author, I jumped at it. It's just as entertaining, revealing much of the same dry humour and fascination with the unusual that the first book held. But it's also a longer, more complex novel, incorporating both the academic world and the oddities of the afterlife with the very physical nature of strip clubs and student relationships.
The basic premise: Linnea E. Nil, Latin professor, is murdered on campus one night, her heart torn from her body. Her best friend Dori Amore, French professor, is grief-stricken, but also shocked when Linnea's spirit appears to her, asking for help in tracking down the missing heart.
Linnea has made this request in hopes that this act of friendship will offer her redemption -- otherwise, she'll have to go to Hades, the afterlife she's been assigned to on the strength of a couple of academic papers written years before. The opening scenes where Linnea encounters the afterlife kiosk and is told to report to Hades are very amusing indeed, with Linnea wishing she'd thought ahead and selected her afterlife. She meets the poet Vergil, a gladiator or two, has a run-in with Charon the ferryman, and ponders what treat might distract Cerberus...
Among this very classical story, we also have a storyline that follows Latin student Alice, as she works in a strip club, goes to Professor Nil's classes, and has a semi-open relationship with roommate Tad (his name is suspiciously close to "cad", a clue to his nature, I think!) Her household is full of odd characters living on the cheap and trying anything they can to afford tuition -- surrogate pregnancy, drug tests, and of course, working in a strip club. There's an evil administrator on campus as well, determined to cut services and raise costs, who is the nemesis of both students and professors.
All this comes together in a funny, dark, and somehow touching story of friendship, love, and meaning. Underwood throws in some edgy themes -- politics, the high cost of education, murder and mayhem -- and blends it all up into a very engaging story. Linnea was a wonderful character, even as a spirit, and her adventures on the otherworldly side of the town of Bridges are quirky and clever.
Perfect when you feel the need to read about Hades, murder, and nefarious characters, tempered by sly humour and clever observations about the state of academia today. It's now available on Amazon, or if you prefer, directly from CreateSpace, so if you're intrigued, do get yourself a copy & enjoy the seasonal read.