The Ghost of the Mary Celeste by Valerie Martin

The Ghost of the Mary Celeste

Valerie Martin (Adult Historical Fiction)

A medical doctor and creator of the world-renowned detective Sherlock Holmes.  A journalist who describes herself as a seeker of frauds and spiritualist debunker.  A shy and gifted clairvoyant of extraordinary powers who many claim to be the genuine article.  All of these people are connected—it seems—by the merchant vessel Mary Celeste that was discovered adrift off the coast of Spain devoid of crew, but replete with questions…many, many questions.  Will the ghosts of the Mary Celeste ever find peace and will these three individuals play a part in their healing?

The Ghost of the Mary Celeste, from its onset, attempted a rather difficult feat by building an entire story around an unsolvable mystery.  Much like the Lost Colony of Roanoke, the only things that one can add to this ancient enigma are theories, speculations, hypotheses, and suppositions.  With that said, Martin gives us a story that is held together by the sheerest veil of it being about the doomed ghost ship.  Instead, readers are presented with multiple storylines that fail to reach any kind of reasonable conclusion and tend to spawn more questions than the Mary Celeste herself.  There are several scenes when the action takes place on the sea and the sailing vessel is enveloped in a thick shroud of fog.  That is how Martin’s story seemed to be—blindly inching along with no real direction and hoping for a break in the clouds to offer some semblance of light and order.

With its abrupt story shifts, numerous plot holes, and a tale that really doesn’t seem to have a point, The Ghost of the Mary Celeste seems doomed to aimlessly drift along while seeking solid ground—much like its namesake.  One could only imagine what this story would have been like if Martin chose to highlight Arthur Conan Doyle rather than spiritualism.  To look at this mystery through the eyes of one Sherlock Holmes—who famously said, “How often have I said to you that when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth?”—we can probably assume that Mr. Holmes would not only have handily solved this case, but would have done so with enough time to make afternoon tea and biscuits.

Rating: 3/5

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Ghost on Black Mountain by Ann Hite

In honor of Halloween, we’ll be reviewing ghoulishly scary and spooky books throughout the month of October.

Ghost on Black Mountain

Ghost on Black Mountain  

Ann Hite (Adult Fiction)

“Mama warned me against marrying Hobbs Pritchard.  She saw my future in her tea leaves: death.”

Nellie Clay was only 17 when she married 25-year old Hobbs Pritchard.  With just a feed sack of clothes, some trinkets, and a childhood full of memories, she leaves the only home she has ever known and moves to Black Mountain with a man she barely knows and the ghosts he has spent a lifetime creating.

Ghost on Black Mountain is a haunting tale of abuse, power, greed, and fervent love.  There is not a soul on Black Mountain that hasn’t been negatively impacted or affected by Hobbs Pritchard, and his toxic anger and avarice blanket the mountain like mist on a crisp autumn morning.  Hite does a credible job in conveying the torment and fear unleashed on a tightly-knit mountain community by a man consumed by evil and jealousy.  The author keeps the story interesting by having different female characters narrate and share their own histories and perspectives.  Near the end of the book, just when you thought you were safely out of the woods, Hite throws in an unexpected twist by introducing an unknown character.  Rather than stall the story’s progression with this sudden interruption, this shift actually adds to the story’s mounting tension and brings us ever closer to an inevitable tipping point.  As this character’s story is slowly unraveled, we become uncomfortably and painfully aware that the ghost on Black Mountain may never truly rest in peace.

Ghost on Black Mountain is Hite’s first novel and she gives readers a truly gripping and all-consuming story of good versus evil and the price one is willing to pay for redemption.  Like the ghosts on Black Mountain, this story and its characters will linger in your mind and lurk in your memory long after the last page is turned.

Rating: 5/5

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The Woman in Black by Susan Hill

In honor of Halloween, we’ll be reviewing ghoulishly scary and spooky books throughout the month of October.

The Woman in Black.jpg

The Woman in Black   

Susan Hill (Adult Fiction)

It’s Christmas Eve at Monk’s Piece.  Lawyer Arthur Kipps, his wife and children are gathered around the fire telling ghost stories, as is ancient tradition.  They all take turns until it comes to Arthur.  “Now come, stepfather, your turn.  You must know at least one ghost story, stepfather, everyone knows one…”  Arthur does know a ghost story.  One haunted by a child’s anguished screams, an approaching pony and trap, a moving rocking chair with no occupant, and a mysterious woman in black.  A ghost story made even more horrifying and terrible because this story is true…absolutely true.

I wasn’t familiar with Susan Hill before this book, but about twenty pages in, I was so impressed with the eloquent and nuanced writing style, and so immersed in the story, that I wondered if she was English.  Sure enough, she is.  There is no mistaking a truly adept English or British author.  The turns of phrase, the sentence structure, and the painstaking attention to detail without being overly verbose all add up to an exceptionally well-crafted book.

Hill gives us a satisfying horror story which achieves its goal of raising the hairs on your neck and increasing the beats of your heart.  By introducing noises in the dark, mysterious brushes against your body, and an invisible presence that always seems to be just right behind you, she goes to the very core of our fears and keeps them tucked into the deepest, darkest corners of our soul—very far away from the light.  Hill gives us a gripping and suspenseful story that builds at a steady and progressive pace until the final climax.  With one last blow thrown in at the end, it might be best to read this with a torch (flashlight) nearby…just in case.

Rating: 5/5

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