Embrace the Grim Reaper by Judy Clemens introduces us to a haunted Casey Maldonado. Casey’s son and husband died in a car accident that was caused by a defect in the vehicle. Casey was thrown clear and lived, because, as her traveling companion Death says, it wasn’t her time to die. Casey took the auto manufacturer to court and got a settlement but the manufacturer’s representatives seem to be dogging her heels, and she isn’t sure why. Neither is she sure that the manufacturer is following through on their agreement that they would fix the defect that caused her husband and son to die. Casey travels around, hitchhiking, staying here and there, not really seeming to care where she ends up, except that when she ends up there, she gets involved in the lives of the local population.
In Embrace the Grim Reaper, Casey, who has a background in theater and who is a competent martial artist, stops in a dying Ohio town where gets drawn into performing in Twelfth Night, replacing a woman who had committed suicide. The woman’s friends can’t believe she committed suicide; it doesn’t ring true for them, but no one has any ability to prove otherwise until Casey comes along and provides the catalyst for investigating the death. Needless to say, it was murder.
In The Grim Reaper’s Dance Casey has moved on and, is in yet another vehicle accident when Evan, the truck driver she has hitched a ride with crashes while trying to avoid hitting some construction vehicles. Death takes Evan, but not before he tells Casey to keep “them” from getting something he has hidden in the cab of the truck.
The first responders to the scene are taken aback that Evan is dying; it is clear that they know him, but they are clearly more interested in obtaining whatever it is that Evan hid. Casey maintains a low profile, hiding out in the cornfields of Kansas, working with a group of teenagers who help her find out who caused the accident that took Evan’s life, and why.
Death is the side kick here. The Grim Reaper doesn’t give Casey any arcane help, he sometimes goads her into action but his role is more Casey’s sub-conscience than participant. It is this more passive role that makes Clemens’s Grim Reaper stories interesting. Casey is an intriguing personality, she is capable, but not super-capable, and she is haunted and hunted. She creates much of her own tension, trying to stay below the radar, avoiding the auto manufacturer functionaries who show up here and there. Clemens isn’t clear about why they are still in the picture and why Casey is avoiding them, but she conveys the message that there is a reason, and I’m waiting for her next book in the hopes that I’ll find out what it is.