Rachel Caine, known formerly to me for her Weather Warden
series, has dipped a toe into the admittedly-less glamorous
zombie genre with WORKING STIFF. The novel, while
admittedly emotionally rather gruesome, is a far cry from
the shambling , moaning undead works of much of the genre,
with very little biting, flesh-eating or moaning of "brains."
WORKING STIFF starts quietly with Bryn Davis, our heroine,
returning from her tour in Iraq and beginning work at an
upscale funeral home. Oddly enough, she's never physically
described, so I can hardly write about her dark, pain-filled
eyes or whether or not her blonde hair falls into her face
when she's feeling insecure. The most physical description
the reader receives is of an ill-fatedly bright pink
lipstick worn on her first day, and descriptions of just
about every outfit she wears (not that that is a negative!).
In any case, she's sedate and seems to just want to bury
herself in her work and in the cool quietness of the
funereal. Unfortunately for her, her boss is hardly the
dark-suited sympathetic hand-holder he appears to be and is
actually part of a black-market resurrection drug ring.
Strangely enough, this book is not fantasy but pure science
fiction instead- in fact, this is a world with no magic.
The drug itself is a pharmaceutical accident that is now
wreaking havoc. Its resurrection powers are as far removed
from a neuromancer's freshly risen zombies as is possible.
Forget about Laurell K. Hamilton's Anita Blake and her grave
dirt-loving zombies, these are the clean, sterile, undead
for a Nip/Tuck generation.
In any case, Bryn is quickly over her head (not even Iraq
prepares you for slowly-rotting sentient beings) and chaos
ensues. While the book was a bit rough in places, it has a
great deal of potential as a series and Caine's fast, clear
writing style is as compelling as ever. Be warned however-
this is not the sassy upbeat Weather Warden series. If
you're not ready for a dark delving into some death and
pain, keep this book shut.
Bryn Davis is new on the job as a funeral director, but
even she knows that once you're dead, you ought to stay
that way. But Fairview Mortuary has a hidden backroom
business: reviving the dead for profit, at extortionate
Finding out may cost Bryn more than her life ... it may
just take away her death, too.
Bryn's first embalming instructor had told her, straight up,
that two kinds of people entered the death business: freaks
and true believers. Bryn Davis didn't think she was either
one of those. For her, it was a prime career
opportunity—a genuine profession.
Oh, she'd picked up odd paychecks during college as an
office temp, dog walker, and one memorable afternoon at a
chicken factory, but none of those had ever felt real to
her. Joining the army after college had seemed like a good
idea at the time (steady job, good wages), but four years in
Iraq hadn't made her want to be a career soldier; it had,
though, given her a bedrock understanding of the fragility
of human life. After that, dead bodies didn't scare or
One good thing she could say for her time in the military:
it had led her where she was now, to this job . . . a good,
stable one, and even better, an important one.
Bryn smiled a little at the thought. Maybe she was a true
believer, after all.
She smoothed the white lab coat—with her name stitched
on the left breast—and felt a warm surge of
accomplishment. Bryn Davis, Funeral Director, Fairview
Mortuary. Her business cards rested in a neat little
cardboard box on her shiny new desk, all sober black ink in
raised type, with the Fairview logo embossed in the corner.
They wouldn't stay in the box for long; Fairview had
furnished her with nice wooden desk accents, including a
business card holder, and just as soon as possible, she
intended to make that desk her own. She'd never had an
The cards and desk were elegant, like everything here. The
room was neat and clean, filled with sober antique furniture
and soft, dark cloth. Deep carpets. Subtle fragrances. Not a
lot of flowers to overwhelm the already raw senses of the
She was a little nervous, but she also felt proud and happy.
In fact, she felt ready. She tried not to feel too happy,
though; it didn't seem appropriate to be so glee-filled
about starting a job that was all about someone else's loss.
The mirror on the wall confirmed that there was still a
smile hiding in the corners of her mouth that she couldn't
quite get rid of, and for a moment, she worried about the
shade of her lipstick. She'd chosen a light pink, but was it
too light? A little too festive? She'd spent too many years
in khaki, far away from the fairy-tale world of Maybelline.
There was a knock on her office door, and before she could
say come in, it swung open to admit the headman . . .
Lincoln Fairview. Mr. Fairview was the fourth Fairview to
operate the funeral home, and he looked the part, from his
sober, well-tailored suit to his impeccably cut gray hair
and soft, kindly face.
She felt her whole body jolt with adrenaline when she saw
him. This was the man she had to impress with her
professionalism. Hoo, boy. She worried, again, about the
He crossed the room with a confident stride and shook her
hand. "Hello, Bryn, good morning. How are you settling in?"
She unbuttoned the lab coat and put it on the hanger in the
small closet. Even the hangers were solid wood, and nicer
than anything in her apartment wardrobe. "Everything's fine,
sir," she said, and glanced down at herself to be sure she
still looked okay. Her business suit was new, and a little
stiff, but it was a solid dove gray color, and the soft pink
shirt seemed like a nice match. Her new gray pumps pinched
her toes, and she was afraid she was going to have to endure
the blisters they were bound to raise, but overall . . . she
thought she was presentable. Except for the lipstick, maybe.
"Am I properly dressed?"
He gave her an X-ray stare, up and down, and then nodded.
"Perfect," Mr. Fairview said. "Soothing, professional,
everything I could ask. Perhaps a touch less on the lipstick
next time; a pretty girl like you really doesn't need to
emphasize her youth and beauty. Go on, have a seat, Bryn."
Oh, she knew it: the lipstick sucked. Bryn tried not to seem
nervous as she settled into her leather chair on the other
side of the desk. Mr. Fairview stayed on his feet. He
studied her for a few seconds, and then said, "I assume that
in your course work, you did live role-play on handling
"Uh—yes, sir." What an odd way to start. . . . She'd
at least expected to get a tour of the building, maybe an
introduction to the staff. At least she'd thought he'd show
her the coffee machine and the bathroom. Pretend he's your
new commanding officer, she told herself, and that steadied
her; she'd gone through plenty of those meetings, and she
knew the drill. Impress them early, and a lot, and they'd
never bother you again. Bryn felt her spine straighten to
military correctness. "Shall I be—"
"You'll be you. I'll be your client. Let me go out and come
back, and we'll get started."
She steeled herself as he left the room, hastily blotted her
lipstick with a tissue. She missed her lab coat. Her lab
coat had given her an air of . . . scientific detachment,
and there was always something comforting about wearing a
This time, when the knock came at the door, Bryn stood and
walked around her desk to meet him, shaking his hand and
making and holding eye contact, just as she would have to
establish her bona fides back in the war zones. Firm
handshake, not too firm; chin up, eyes steady and straight.
Convey a sense of solid competence and trustworthiness.
"Sir, thank you for coming to Fairview. Please have a seat.
How may I assist you today?"
She indicated the sofa and chairs grouped in the corner of
the office. Mr. Fairview took a place on the sofa, looked
around, and leaned forward as she settled into a polite,
alert pose on the chair—within reach, but giving him
space. "I'm sure that this is a very hard day for you," she
said in her most soothing voice. This, at least, was
something she felt confident doing, even on her first
morning of the job. "How can I help?"
Mr. Fairview didn't even give her a nod of approval. He
stared over her shoulder instead. "It's my brother," he
said. "He passed away yesterday."
"I'm so sorry." Bryn knew how to steer the conversation;
she'd been through the training, and she knew better than to
ask the emotional questions immediately. "May I get you a
coffee, or tea, or—"
Fairview's gaze shifted to her face. "He was hit by a truck."
She had an instant, vivid flashback of the armored personnel
carrier, of a screaming face outside the dust-smeared
window, of the crushing thump of the wheels. Of the body in
the dirt, blood leaking dark onto the packed road, head
crushed into a shape that was no longer human.
Bryn took a deep breath and forced the images away. Focus,
she thought. He's talking about reconstruction work. That
was pricey, a definite plus for the business. "That must
have been a terrible shock."
"It certainly was for him."
Oh, God, was he trying to make her laugh? Bryn didn't feel
any inclination to it; the memory of that body in the road
had drained all the laughter out of her. Her voice, when it
came, was just a shade too cool. "I meant for you, sir."
"I never liked him anyway. Now I'm stuck paying for him.
Dumb son of a bitch never knew how to drive anyway. I want
the lowest price you can give me, understand? I'm not
spending a cent more on his drunken corpse than I have to."
Bryn opened her mouth, but nothing came out. She'd had a
course section on dealing with aggressive customers, but
those brain cells had shut down and were refusing to
cooperate. Mr. Fairview was selling the angry brother for
all he was worth, and her instinct was to fight
back—which she couldn't do, in this position.
She took a deep breath. "I'm sure we can work with you to
find something within your budget, sir," she said. Oh, God,
that was weak. "Let's talk about some options. . . ." She
reached out for the brochures and books, and realized that
she'd left them across the room, sitting on her desk. Of
course. She felt her face grow a bit warm at the oversight,
but covered it by calmly standing and walking to retrieve
them, talking as she walked. "I'm sure you'll find the
Paradise plan the one that fits your needs, sir; it's a good
combination of quality and price. We can also work with you
on floral choices, which can save you a great deal of
money." She held out the brochure to him as she returned to
He didn't take it.
Fairview let her dangle and suffer for a moment, then
suddenly sat back and relaxed, arms spread out across the
top of the sofa. "Good," he said, and nodded with a warm
smile. "Very good. You made me feel welcome, established
trust, competence, and a human connection; you seated me
where you wanted me, and offered me refreshment. You didn't
let me throw you off when I showed you sarcasm and anger.
That's always the worst part, I think."
"Did I forget anything?"
"Tissues," he said. "Always keep the tissues here, next to
the sofa, where they're easy to reach. Make sure the trash
can is visible, but discreet, so they know where to dispose
of them. And, of course, you've already realized how
important it is to keep sales materials at hand, but don't
make it obvious; this isn't a furniture store. If you can't
do the math in your head, keep a calculator close so you can
quickly update your figures; they'll always want to make
changes to standard packages, and that will require repricing."
She nodded. "Anything else?"
"Upsell, my dear. Always upsell. Higher-priced options may
not be within their budget, but they're certainly factored
into mine." Mr. Fairview rose and offered her his hand.
"I'll introduce you to Lucy when she comes in, and of course
you will have to meet Freddy downstairs, but later. For now,
I think you're ready for your first intake session. I'll be
sitting in, so don't worry; if you go off script, I'll bring
She wasn't fooled by that: he wasn't there to help; he was
there to give her a job evaluation. Fairview had a
reputation of being strict, a stickler for regulations, and
for making the best profits in the industry. He also had a
reputation for going through funeral directors like bags of
She took a deep breath, smiled, and stood as Mr. Fairview
went to get her first real customers.
Upsell. You can do this!
We just got this secret video in from one of our undercover informants at Pharmadene Pharmaceuticals. WATCH IT NOW ... tomorrow may be too late.