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    THE SCARED STIFF by Judson Jack Carmichael

    Carroll & Graf, 2002

    When their financial problems become too severe, Barry Lee and his wife Lola come up with the perfect answer. They'll go to Guerrera, Lola's native country, Barry will die, and Lola will get the insurance money. Then Barry, resurrected as Lola's long-dead brother, will rejoin her in New York. I simple case of insurance fraud. What could possibly go wrong?

    As it turns out, just about everything could go wrong. The man who is supposed to watch over Barry turns out to be a gangster, Lola's cousins figure that they can get more of the money if Barry really does turn out dead, Barry finds himself continually tempted by beautiful women, and both the Guerreran police and the American insurance fraud investigators have their suspicions. For Barry to stay alive, let alone get the money, he has to stay on the run.

    Author Judson Jack Carmichael begins with a cute premise--and delivers a steady diet of frantic action. Still, THE SCARED STIFF falls a bit short of what it could have been. Perhaps if we had seen the problems that drove Barry and Lola to this extreme, it would have been possible to be more sympathetic. As it was, it was hard to get emotionally involved in someone who was, after all, trying to commit fraud.

    Two Stars

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