In Stich’s second thriller featuring the Afterlife Society (The Assassination Race, 2013, etc.), members race to stop an apparently possessed man from revealing details of the secret society, only to find something far more sinister at work.
Edward Bloodgood, the new and inexperienced king of a society that promotes street racing to maintain interplanetary peace, has a problem: He fired some great racers because they were hardened criminals, and now the extraterrestrial investors are bored. He tracks down the racers and learns that one, Vinny, is institutionalized, levitating objects and exhibiting the effects of a demonic possession. Meanwhile, Nikolas, leader of the Knights, a motorcycle gang, assists the society in locating Vinny and is also enlisted to protect his pal Fernando, a congressman who’s scared for his life and experiencing strange convulsions. Edward and racer Deidra soon realize there are strange goings-on, and it may have to do with Fernando. Stich, as in her previous book, injects a good deal of humor. But this time, Edward’s denseness is more endearing and more comical, for instance, his mangling Deidra’s metaphor on the difficulty of finding new racers: They’re “as easy to replace as a catalytic converter without the right ramp thing and something about bolts.” Fully drawn characters and ample dramatic interaction add to the pleasure, as do aliens and, as the title playfully teases, a wolf. Characters are often entrenched in melodrama, such as Deidra’s former lover, Nikolas, whose presence forces Edward to reassess his relationship with her. Likewise, Deidra is torn between the two men. The author knows how to turn details into images—a priest riding a Harley is particularly memorable. Farce regularly acts as a counterpoint to many of the more serious moments; Edward’s powerful status among the others is sometimes in question as he fumbles orders, but Deidra, when recruiting help, bolsters the man’s authority with a hysterical warning that an angry Edward is prone to using a corkscrew as a weapon.
A character-driven story with traces of comedy, as in Stich’s first novel, but more polished and self-assured.