The Desecrated
by John Gray
Ellysian Press

"Visions of a ghost woman’s hand stuck in this drain, and its arm ripping out from its shoulder, flashed in her mind. She made contact with the cool surface of the amulet."

Twenty-year-old Jennifer Shelby has taken a late-night shift processing bodies in the local morgue in the hopes of distracting herself from the trauma of her father’s death. Circumstances contrive to pair her with Trevor Pryce, a prominent British actor with a “bad boy” persona who’s been sentenced to fifty-three hours of community service after being arrested multiple times for drunk driving. Jennifer quickly loses patience with Trevor, who delights in performing ill-conceived and sexually suggestive pranks with the bodies of the dead. Yet the two are forced to work together when the corpses begin coming to life.

An ancient spirit housed in an amulet is wreaking havoc, crafting gory but creative tableaux involving severed heads and dismembered limbs. As the living and the dead begin to trade places, Jennifer must locate the source of the destruction. In the process, she uncovers a disturbing conspiracy taking place within her own profession.

Gray succeeds at creating a deeply sympathetic heroine whose inner doubts and history of loss render her immediately appealing. The author avoids the familiar trap of making her super-heroic, balancing her only sporadically glimpsed psychic gifts with real vulnerability. Her isolated and straitlaced personality provides a compelling contrast with the mischievous, if annoying, Trevor, rendering them a believably mismatched duo. The novel strays somewhat whenever it switches from Jennifer to one of the several other point-of-view characters, and she is a strong enough protagonist that she might have carried the story alone. Intensely gruesome descriptions may also disturb the squeamish. However, the prose is lyrical and, at times, even poetic without being overwritten.

The 2023 Eric Hoffer Book Award Commercial Fiction Runner-Up

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