When striking up conversation at a bar, it isn’t common to say: “Let’s say, hypothetically, that a reaper came after you. How would you stop it?”
But for 23-year-old Hallie Michaels, the heroine in Deborah Coates’ latest book, “Deep Down,” it’s just business as usual.
After finishing her tour in Afghanistan, Hallie returns home to rural South Dakota to try and figure out life after the army. But it’s never quiet in South Dakota. Hallie can see ghosts and reapers and notices her neighbor’s house is surrounded by harbingers of death. When Hallie starts investigating, she notices people disappearing all over town. And what is up with those dark clouds?
Meanwhile, Hallie’s boyfriend, deputy Boyd Davies, is plagued with ghosts of his own, ghosts he claims he can handle. But when Death comes for him, he finds he has no choice but to put his life in Hallie’s hands.
This may sound like a fantasy thriller — and it is — but it’s also a story about the sense of community and steadfastness present in the Midwest. When Hallie finds herself caught in a riddle, she turns to a neighbor. When she’s facing down an angry ghost, the county sheriff stands by her, even though he has no idea what’s happening. In times of trouble, we turn to one another and show our true (and hopefully best) selves. Coates captures this beautifully.
Also, in perhaps an unintentional nod to Willa Cather, one of Coates’ characters is the land itself: wide, beautiful, unforgiving. Giving the land a starring role helps keep readers grounded, giving us something to cling to when the (fantastic!) battles begin.
Ghosts and reapers can strike anywhere, but we as Midwesterners should be proud Coates chose to set her stories here.