Working Stiff [BOOK REVIEW]

Working Stiff CoverAuthor: Rachel Caine
Publisher: Roc
Genre: Action/Romance
Unique Elements: Reanimation, corporate espionage, and zombies.
Series: Revivalist (#1)
Release Date: August 2, 2011
Number of Page: 304 Pages
MSRP: $7.99 (Paperback)
Discount Link: Click Here
Website: Click Here
Reviewed by: M. Anne DeLeeuw
Final Score: 3 Moons (out of 5)

When Bryn Davis decided to enter the mortuary business, she thought it would be a much less stressful job than her previous career as an Army soldier. After all, that netted her four years in Iraq – an experience she doesn’t care to repeat. She is excited to start her first job at the prestigious Fairview Mortuary in La Jolla, California – even if Fairview has a reputation for going through Funeral Directors faster than anyone else.

But unbeknownst to Bryn, there are much darker things going on at Fairview Mortuary. Its owner, Lincoln Fairview, is involved in a big-bucks extortion scheme involving the mortuary’s clientele – both living and dead. Fairview is secretly buying a supply of a top-secret drug accidentally discovered by pharmaceutical giant Pharmadene that literally brings the dead back to life. But the newly revived aren’t home free – they have to have a daily shot of the drug, Returné, or else their body will begin to decompose, while they are still alive. It’s a terrifying end, and enough to convince Fairview’s victims to pay thousands of dollars for the shot.

When Fairview and his creepy mortician Freddy catch Bryn eavesdropping on a meeting with one of their former clients, they decide to terminate her – permanently. Bryn is revived by Pharmadene employee Patrick McAllister, and to avoid a horrible second death, she is forced to work for the company herself in order to find the mole who was selling Returné to Fairview Mortuary. But she has to be careful. If she outlives her usefulness, Pharmadene’s most callous executive, Irene Harte, might just leave her to rot – literally.


The most interesting part of this book is that it is a completely unique take on the zombie myth. The revived in this series don’t stumble around trying to eat brains (a fact that is humorously alluded to several times, actually.) They look perfectly normal – that is, until they miss a daily shot and start decomposing. Fans of the zombie craze might enjoy this new perspective.

I liked the creativity of the book’s plot; however the hopelessness of Bryn’s situation makes it kind of hard to empathize with her. I did feel bad for her – she didn’t deserve to be put in this situation, of course. But the fact that she is essentially a permanent zombie means that there can’t be much of an ending to the story, so I found myself trying hard to not like her, just so I wouldn’t be upset when I got to the end.

The overall feeling of the book made it seem as though it should end like a Shakespearean tragedy where everybody dies. But the ending itself was actually pretty happy, which made it seem kind of odd and contrite. And it did leave the door completely wide open for a sequel, which always annoys me. Yes, I know it is part of a trilogy, but I always think that every book should wrap up its own individual plot, while leaving the over-arching storyline open until the very end. I think that was the main reason why I was so disappointed with the second Matrix movie and never bothered to watch the third one.


It’s pretty obvious from the book’s cover art that the lead is female, so that might initially turn off more male readers who would think it contains less action and more romance, but that’s not actually the case. There are quite a few gunfights throughout the book, and the living decomposition process – which is mostly alluded to – is eventually described in very graphic terms later on in the story. For those keeping score, the body count is quite high – and many of them keep getting back up. So there might be room for a male fan base as well.

Being female, I generally like a novel with a strong female lead, but I can’t say that I really liked the character of Bryn Davis. I’ve never been in the military or in any kind of combat, but I am an Army wife and have spent a lot of time around soldiers – both male and female. It’s hard to put my finger on, but Bryn just didn’t seem like a soldier, even a former one. It was as though the author wanted to give Bryn a combat background so it would be believable that she could handle gunfights and hand-to-hand combat, but without knowing enough about what the Army is actually like.

I was also a little disappointed at the inevitable love interest between Bryn and Patrick McAllister. That always seems to be a standby in any sort of book or movie involving strong women – they always have to fall in love with someone. And in this case, he also happens to be filthy rich – two clichés in one. Given the dark nature of the story, the romance does provide some levity and character interaction, but it relies on such an over-used literary convention. Given the fact that the author got her start in romance novels, I can understand why she would throw this in. But it seems as though she used up all her creativity for the plot, and fell back on old habits to add interest. I think it’s great for authors to branch out into different genres, but they really need to embrace the genre completely.

Gothic Fit

You really can’t get much more Goth than death, reanimation, and live decomposition, so I imagine that anyone in the Gothic subculture who loves a gory novel would enjoy this story. For those of us who are more empathetic or have overactive imaginations, however, some scenes could possibly be a bit too graphic. But even though I fall into the latter camp, I wasn’t so disturbed as to feel like I had to stop reading.

Closing Thoughts

I can’t be the only person who’s really getting sick of the whole zombie craze. Once some sort of trend like this hits (pirates, vampires, etc,) anyone with a book, movie, or TV show jumps out of the woodwork trying to make a buck. So I was initially skeptical about Working Stiff for that reason.

The fact that the plot was an entirely new twist on a very old (and someone overused) monster story did make it much more appealing. It becomes a sort of cross between Herbert West, Reanimator and Repo! The Genetic Opera. The author certainly must be applauded for her creativity.

That being said, however, there were just too many things that kept me from really enjoying this novel. Empathy for a story’s main character is vitally important, but I alternated between feeling sorry for Bryn, and just being indifferent toward or even annoyed with her. And even though the plot was creative, that only goes so far in holding a reader’s attention. But I’m willing to give the rest of the series the benefit of the doubt, and I hope that it will get better.

Story: 2.0 Moons (out of 5.0)
Dynamic: 2.5 Moons (out of 5.0)
Gothic Fit: 5.0 Moons (out of 5.0)
Final Score (not an average): 3.0 Moons (out of 5.0)

Score: Three Moons

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Author: M. Anne Deleeuw

M. Anne Deleeuw is a Gothic author and contributing writer to DarkestGoth Magazine, MicroFilmmaker Magazine, and numerous other online communities.

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