Death stalks the haunted, windswept prairie in this chilling sequel to Wide Open Now that she's solved her sister's murder, Hallie Michaels has left the army and isn't sure what to do next. Her relationship with deputy Boyd Davies is tentative, there's still distance between her and her father, and she needs a job. The good news is, she hasn't seen a ghost in weeks. All that changes when she gets a call asking her to help an elderly neighbor who is being stalked by black dogs, creatures from the underworld that are harbingers of death. When a black dog appears, Hallie learns, a reaper is sure to follow. And if the dark visions she's suddenly receiving are any indication, it looks like the reaper is now following her. Meanwhile, strange events herald the arrival of ghosts from Boyd's past, ghosts the young deputy isn't ready to face. Refusing Hallie's help, Boyd takes off to deal with the problem on his own, only to find that he's facing something much larger and more frightening than he'd imagined. Stalked by a reaper and plagued by dark visions, Hallie finds she must face her fears and travel into Death's own realm to save those she most loves.
Deep Down by Deborah Coates, the sequel to Wide Open opens on its protagonist busy with chores, baling hay for cattle and bison. It’s an idyllic image, and one that is soon shattered, as a shadow quite literally falls over her. For Hallie Michaels, this is not only frightening, but also a source of pain, as she gets a blinding headache when the ghost, aka the shadow, passes over her. And so the quiet of her life is broken, and things don’t improve from there.
There are some elements that are clearly related, black dogs, which are bad news personified, as they represent death, and reapers. Most importantly, in this story, a reaper isn’t some shadowy figure that doesn’t get his hands dirty. All of these things are related to the magic introduced in the first book, and that’s because dying and coming back changed Hallie, now she sees things that other people can't, or don't want to admit are there.
But the black dogs hanging around her friend Pabby's ranch aren't just mutts, they're harbingers of death, and Pabby wants her to make them go away. It turns out that Pabby's mother had the Sight, and that she buried an iron hex around her property, so the dogs can't cross. But they won't leave.
They're not mean, and talk to Hallie, even riding around in her truck with her, but they won't leave, and Hallie isn't willing to let them take anybody she knows.
She doesn't want to be trapped in the small town, and is driving home thinking over a job offer when she is confronted by an accident that has already happened. It's a message to Boyd, the guy she's been sort of dating, but it's also intended for her.
It turns out it's not the dogs that are the only problem. There's a reaper hanging around, and he's got his own agenda, which is bad news for Hallie and anybody who tries to get in his way.
The descriptions of the landscape, and characters make it clear that the author is familiar with this sort of life, but there were a few things that might throw readers. Hallie sounds older than 23. Even war and death don't account for the voice, and at times it feels like a generational gap on the part of the author. At times it feels like the writing is very spot-on, but when it comes to the dialogue between characters who are romantically involved, or Hallie’s own inner monologue, it all sounds like it belongs to somebody a few decades in the past.
That aside, the plot is interesting, with a setting and interpretation of reapers and associated folklore that hasn’t been overused by fantasy writers.