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Once Dead, Twice Shy - Kim Harrison Madison Avery, the main character of Once Dead, Twice Shy, first appears in the anthology Prom Nights from Hell, in a short story entitled Madison Avery and the Dim Reaper. In it, Madison loses her life thanks to a dark reaper, but manages to get her own back by stealing his amulet. Although still dead, she now has an illusion of the body, as well as a lead up to a new series.

Unfortunately, those events are poorly recapped (if at all) in Once Dead, Twice Shy, and so readers who have not read Madison Avery and the Dim Reaper will most likely find themselves confused at all the names mentioned that we are expected to know, but aren't - I know I was.

Because of this, Once Dead, Twice Shy stumbles out of the gate and never quite catches up to where it should be. It launches straight out into the action and, when it does provide some backstory, neglects to tell the most important parts. Instead it focuses on racing ahead with the action, as if the ending of the short 232 pages simply cannot come fast enough. If a few more pages were added and spent on characters, backstory, transitions and things like that the potential could have been better realised.

And there is potential here in Once Dead, Twice Shy. The initial idea is really interesting and could have gone really far. The characters too, have their shining points: while Madison at times seems more intent on hitting all the stereotype markers of "I'm so alternative, I don't conform - see the streak in my hair?", the times where she takes initiative and sees the bigger picture, she was a very likable and interesting character. So too are the side-characters: ordinary boy Josh, frustrated light reaper Barnabas, and tiny Grace, the limerick-speaking guardian angel. And once we get into the main course of the plot, it's very interesting and leads into an ending that was a very decent saving throw at worse - although not perfect, the ending provided enough to make me willing to check out the next book in the series.

Once Dead, Twice Shy was a book that could have been very good, but didn't quite make it. Had it spent a little bit more explaining for those who hadn't read the short story, and a few more pages just expanding on some other things, Once Dead, Twice Shy would likely have been a far more enjoyable book than it turned out to be. Hopefully this is a case of a rare fumble, and that these problems are rectified in Early to Death, Early to Rise.

Two and a half stars.