When Perry Edwards solicits Professor Mira Polson to audit her class “Death, Dying and the Undead,” he is on a mission. The untimely death of sorority girl Nicole Werner a year earlier has left the college campus in shock, especially the small family of students at the elite Godwin Honors Hall. Perry had known Nicole since grade school and roomed with her boyfriend, Craig Clements-Rabbit, who was driving the night of the accident. Since Nicole’s death there have been sightings, campus lore eagerly embracing Nicole’s ghost walking among them, a grim reminder of her tragic fate and the restlessness of the wandering soul.
Professor Polson indulges Perry’s curiosity, sensing his sincerity and need to understand what has transpired and whether such phenomena are possible in an age when science provides ready explanations for even the most bizarre of circumstances. Across campus, in her office of the Chamber Music Society, Shelly Locke, the only witness to the fatal accident, takes exception to inaccurate newspaper reports of a car fire and a pool of blood under Nicole’s head. Shelly saw what happened, but no one will listen to her testimony; vague stories printed periodically misrepresent what really occurred. Ironically, Nicole’s sorority sister, Josie Riley, works in Shelly’s office, a bright, careless girl who claims a close friendship with the dead girl and basks in the sympathy such a connection affords.
Craig is obsessed with his overwhelming grief, unable to navigate college life without his beloved. When Craig imagines he sees Nicole on campus, Perry attempts to separate truth from myth with Mira Polson’s help. Increasingly frustrated, Shelly begins her own investigation, interviewing Nicole’s family and friends, stumbling upon a critical piece of information that suggests more than superstitious fancy at work. In spite of the popular belief in the undead, be it vampire or zombie, there is a rational explanation for events. Rasischke explores the netherworld between, where imagination trumps reason and logic is a poor substitute for superstition.
Though overlong, the author masters both characters and plot: troubled Craig, whose tunnel vision leads him on a dangerous path; deeply unsettled Perry, who turns to Mira for guidance; driven Shelly, who refuses to accept what she knows to be false; even the unpredictable behavior of Josie Riley, suggesting nothing is what it seems. Convinced of their own immortality, the students’ willingness to embrace Nicole’s ghost is a grim reminder of the impermanence of life and the inevitability of death. The young are unprepared to accept the tragic end of a comrade, popularity and beauty no insurance against a waiting grave.