Death Benefits by Sharon Saracino

Death Benefits by Sharon Saracino
Publisher: Whiskey Creek Press
Genre: Contemporary, Paranormal
Length: Full Length (194 pages)
Heat Level: Sweet
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Daisy

Max Logan’s insecurities have consumed her to the point that she has allowed them to skew her perceptions of people and circumstances. She has grown progressively more bitter, sarcastic, and solitary since her divorce and feels as though she has spent a lifetime getting the short end of the stick through no fault of her own; still she trudges on. Things can always get better, right? Of course, it’s hard to cultivate optimism when she finds herself dead, the victim of a D.I.E (Death in Error) caused by an overeager Grim Reaper in Training. She brokers a deal to be sent back to Earth as a temporary substitute for the Superintendent of Spiritual Impediment. Can a woman who won’t recognize her own problems rectify the issues of the living impaired? Or will she discover that concentrating on their issues gives her a new perspective on her own?

Maxine McCoy is an unlikable character in any other setting than a first person point of view. Through this guise, readers understand her insecurities and her reasons for hiding away and mouthing off. Creating this sort of character is a tactic which can often go wrong but thankfully doesn’t here.

A unique individual, Maxine refuses to let a “no” stand. She is a big fan of the “Kubler-Ross” model and has, I expect, had a rather large dollop of therapy in her past. She is someone any reader could know; divorced, unhappy, living on frozen meals and café junk, unfit, unloved and full of anger. She is the last person anyone would expect to encounter the paranormal and wind up better for it.

This is a second chance, second life, take on what can change if you live your life differently, after being made to see your life through a different perspective. She does not live her life in another’s shoes but reevaluates what she has and how she got to where she is. Like all of us, she has made many mistakes and realizes blaming others is not always the answer. Sounds like good therapy and perhaps it is – through supernatural means.

This is a book which utilizes the paranormal not to change a person’s life in and of itself but to encourage an individual to rethink their life choices, separately from the paranormal influence.

The characters are strong, the motives behind every action and reaction are clear and the paper pushing picture of the afterlife is humorous. Maxine herself is realistic but often hilarious in her anger or denial. I suspect these choices have been made by Sharon Saracino to lighten the mood of a story where death is so close to the surface and it works perfectly.

However there are one or two small issues. There is a time discrepancy after the paranormal event ends which seems to have no reason behind it. Not a big issue, but a perplexing one. Also, the first quarter to third of the novel feels too rushed, as if a break or breath needs to be taken but is never found. I found myself struggling to keep up with the pace of this. It fits a shocked, half way to breakdown character, but is a little too much to keep up with. The first paragraph illustrates this problem: ‘Stupid way to die? Been there, done that. Who says death can’t be funny? Even I can admit it isn’t the most auspicious way to start the weekend. Karma is so arbitrary’. What could be two or three sentences is broken into many here which creates a breathy effect but also means the sentences roll onto each other and seem to never end or stop. More paragraphs could fix some of this problem, as could a different sentence structure. This issue is a shame because the rest of the novel is brilliantly paced and the character becomes more measured. This could be a way of showing character development and it works, but needs to be toned down to promote easier reading.

Despite these issues, I found myself becoming involved in Maxine’s world and caring about her problems. I was surprised by the resolution to her love troubles and yet the explanation also made sense, knowing her character. Saracino has played with the idea of an unreliable narrator and overlapped this with paranormal events to craft a story I opened up to. Never mind the death and the bad decisions or hurtful truths – this is a feel good story about a life being turned around. I may not be a thirty-something divorcee but, after this book, I can understand that role and its disadvantages and isn’t that role experience what every writer wants to achieve?

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