Deadwood Violet is back in Optical Delusions, and she's brought along all the things I loved about Nearly Departed. Witty writing, killer dialog, red-hot sex scenes, a corker of a mystery, and a tinge of paranormal that leaves the reader wondering if the supernatural is really happening or not have all come back for Ann Charles' sophomore offering.
In the wake of the action in Nearly Departed, Violet's developed something of a reputation as the local spook finder. All the more ironic because Violet still doesn't really believe in ghosties and ghoulies. But, setting fire to the "haunted" residence of the local psychopathic killer will get you that sort of reputation. Newly minted reputation in hand, Violet gets approached by a small, mousy woman in need of a realtor. In a matter of minutes, Violet knows why she was picked, the house, in addition to having a reputation for being haunted, was also the location of a murder-suicide a few months earlier.
On the good news front, the house is perfect. On the better news front, the Sturgis Harley Davidson convention is on, and Deadwood is packed with out-of-towners, some of whom are looking for real estate. On the downside, something just isn't right about the owners, and that triggers Violet's need to get down to the bottom of what is going on. She's thinking it's a simple matter of a not-all-there mother being taken advantage by her daughter and almost daughter-in-law. But of course, it's so much more than that. Next thing Violet knows she's got witches, demons, and spooks in her life again, and she'd really prefer they weren't.
If that was all the plot this story had, it'd be a great read. But it's not all the plot, the Deadwood mysteries are romances as well as who/what-done-its. I'll admit to being a bit disappointed in the romance for Optical Delusions. When we left Nearly Departed, Doc and Violet were heading toward happily ever after. There were some big obstacles in the way, and I wanted to see how they would deal with them. Two weeks later we begin Optical Delusions and apparently during the intervening time Doc's character got a personality transplant and went skittering into hiding because he's oh-so-scared of a real relationship. So, for all practical purposes Doc and Violet go back to square one and start over again in Optical Delusions.
Now, the actual romance plot line of: guy acts like jerk, guy decides he can't live without woman, guy does valiant things to get back into woman's good graces, forgiveness, and happy time is just fine. It holds together well and works. Charles handles it with grace and wit. But I was hoping to see the romance actually move forward, as opposed to end up in precisely the same place it was when we got done with Nearly Departed. None of the major issues facing Doc and Violet as a couple are any closer to resolved. He's still a psychic. She's still not sure she believes such things are real. Her best friend is still in love with Doc and she's not sure how to handle that.
And, while I wouldn't call that a minor issue with the book, it is one of personal taste. Optical Delusions is extremely well written. The characters are vibrant and spending time with them is a genuine joy. The mystery has twists, turns, red-herrings, and fully satisfying ending. Charles' ability to balance paranormal creepiness with the real world and leave the reader on the fence as to what is actually going on is reminiscent of the best episodes of the X-Files. Plot threads that were sprinkled into both Optical Delusions and Nearly Departed look like they'll get picked up in the third book. This is another carefully written, carefully plotted book. I want to know what happens next. I just hope it doesn't involve Doc and Violet heading back to square one again.