Book Review: Dead Alert

Dead Alertby Bianca D'ArcBrava/Kensington, 2011When handsome, muscular, dashing, confident, loyal, and patriotic pilot Sam Archer takes a seat before his Special Forces commander in the opening chapter of Dead Alert by Bianca D'Arc (not to be confused with Ramona Remainder), he's told his next mission will be investigating a mysterious chartered-flight service out of Wichita, Praxis Air, and his commander makes no bones about the nature of this deep cover mission: "We'll give you a suitable job history and cover, which you will commit to memory ... I won't order you to do this. It's a total immersion mission." Sam and his Special Forces comrades are dedicated to wiping out the technology that's been creating a zombie plague throughout the world in recent months, and Sam has a particular reason to be both dedicated and cocky: he himself is immune to the virus that's creating these medical undead, which makes him the perfect man for the job.Readers of paranormal romance (an of course readers of D'Arc's last three books, Once Bitten, Twice Dead, Half Past Dead, and A Darker Shade of Dead) won't be surprised to learn that Praxis Air is run by a woman, Emily Parkington, who is both fair and extremely fair. But even those broad-minded and forgiving readers might have a tough time soldiering on when test pilot Sam Archer shakes hands with Emily and introduces himself as ... test pilot Sam Archer. We can assume this didn't require a lot of memorizing, but still - this is "total immersion" deep cover? What's he supposed to do, spend the whole book saying "No, no - I'm not that Sam Archer, the one who's dedicated to taking down your company! I'm a different Sam Archer - no, don't worry, it happens all the time..." Readers might be able to suspend their disbelief for a world where a technological zombie-plague is threatening civilization, but a world without Google? Unthinkable.Fortunately, Emily isn't without resources of her own - including that much-maligned old standby, woman's intuition. "She was getting mixed feelings about him," we're told right up front. "Something about him set her radar off. It could be the all too feminine discomfort of being so close to a devastatingly attractive male. Or it could be something far more sinister."Faster than you can say 'Potential Enemies Become Allies, Friends, and Sheet-Scorching Lovers," Emily and Sam have worked out their differences and begun to concentrate on the mysterious employers who've been recently using Praxis Air for mysterious charters with mysterious cargoes. D'Arc keeps her one-dimensional plot's action on a high boil the whole time, which makes for some pleasurably mindless page-turning as international industrial espionage blends with action-thriller antics and the whole combination splashes all around in pulpy excess, a heightened surreality that Sam himself is the first to acknowledge, especially when it comes to himself:

 There was the added uncertainty of his medical state. The serum he'd been given to save his life had changed him on a fundamental level. He had more in common with a comic book superhero now than he did with a regular human being. He healed super fast. He doubted anything short of decapitation would kill him now, though he didn't want to test it. He wasn't completely invulnerable, but it was a close thing, or so he'd been told by the docs who had worked on him.

Those 'docs' (the word is a sure-fire sign that the author never met a cliche she didn't like) have transformed our hero into a miracle of science, and he and Emily have numerous close calls with the bad guys (who are hoping to control and disseminate the aforementioned zombie plague for their own nefarious ends, of course - it doesn't occur to them to be afraid of it until it's far, far too late) as the novel catapults to its conclusion. D'Arc hasn't exactly reached for her Tolstoy in the creation of this zesty confection, but when it comes to crafting a juicy B-movie thriller, she certainly knows what she's doing.Which is more than we can say for her hapless hero, who at one point improvises a fake identity in order to trick the bad guys into thinking he's a rival arms dealer. When they press him for details, he smiles cleverly and says, "You can call me Sam."Of course they can.