Ok, so I was suckered into buying this one by the purdy cover and intriguing synopsis. Ghosts seem to be the next big thing in paranormal literature; I’ve seen a few titles recently released or about to be released that focus on a ghostly element. So why did I choose this one over the others? Well, the graveyard aspect caught my attention… and the murder mystery behind it. I do like me a good murder mystery from time to time!
When the book arrived, I realised that it’s published by MIRA, who also publish Deanna Raybourn, raising my expectances just that little bit more. The fact that it’s the start of a new series, with two more books lined up for publication in the near future, also caught my attention. I plunged into this book expecting the very best.
Presentation: A large paperback (as is usually the case with MIRA) with medium-sized font that is well spaced. There are 376 pages broken down in 41 chapters and an epilogue. The chapters are of differing lengths, but they don’t tend to be too long.
Story: Amelia Gray saw her first ghost when she was 9 years old. Since then, she has lived her life following her papa’s four rules:
1) Never acknowledge the dead.
2) Never stray far from hallowed ground.
3) Never get close to the haunted.
4) Never, ever tempt fate.
She is a cemetery restorer, her life devoted to restoring graveyards to their former beauty without causing any lasting damage. She was recently hired to restore Oak Grove Cemetery, an old cemetery dating back to pre-civil war era in places that has been allowed to fall into ruin. But before she can really start her work, a body is discovered in one of the graves. The still fleshy body of a girl who went missing mere days before. A body that did not belong in that grave.
Amelia is called in to help on the case in the hopes that in her preliminary photography work, she may have spotted something that will help catch the killer. The only problem for Amelia is that the detective who has brought her in on the case in haunted. The ghosts of his lost loved ones follow him, leeching the warmth and joy of life from him. And Amelia’s rules say that she should keep her distance from the haunted. Still, she finds herself inexplicably drawn to John Devlin, despite the dangers she knows that she’s putting herself in when the ghosts become aware that she can see them. Especially when dark shadow creatures start coming after her.
As more bodies are unearthed and the epitaphs and symbols on the headstones seem to become important to the case, it is evident that Amelia Gray may be the only one able to decipher the clues and stop the killer.
Thoughts and impressions: This story has a lovely, wide and varied cast of fragile people who are all broken in one way or another. Amelia is sheltered, scared of going too far from the boundaries she’s set on her own life; Devlin is carrying the weight of the loss of his wife and daughter; Camilla is hiding a secret that could cost her the position she holds in the university; Temple is just weird, a bit eccentric; Ethan is dealing with an aging father and his father is still haunted by the drawn out death of his wife some fifteen years previously; Daniel is carrying around the evidence of attempted suicide…
All of these characters, excepting Amelia, were students at the university when Afton Delacourt was murdered and Ethan’s father, a teacher there, implicated as the murderer. But someone high up swept Afton’s murder under the rug and no one will talk about it now, all of these people becoming cagey whenever Amelia asks anything about the death. There are secrets being hidden, and they are certainly well hidden and though I enjoyed Amelia trying to get to the bottom of this situation, sometimes her conversations with her friends sounded more like a police interrogation than anything else.
I liked the portrayal of ghosts. Not so much tethered here by unfinished business, but more because they don’t want to let go of the living, and they suck the life, the energy, the vitality from their victim without them ever knowing.
For a long time, there’s an awful lot of repetition from Amelia as she keeps telling herself that she should not let Devlin into her life, she should get out of this before she upsets her ghost situation anymore… and it goes on and on. There’s too much repetition there and I didn’t really like it. I got the point the first twenty times, I don’t need to hear it another twenty. There are also questions still left unanswered, so I hope that the author will be tackling those in the books to come. There are also big information dumps about cemeteries towards the beginning. These are done in dialogue in the guise of Amelia explaining the symbolism to Devlin, which I can readily accept – it’s certainly better than Amelia going into an internal monologue about it! The author certainly did her research about the history of this symbolism and I found a lot of the information very interesting. I’m looking forward to finding out more in the following books!
Style: First person perspective. As mentioned, there are repetitions and info dumps. There are also some clunky bits but these are easily overlooked. The author definitely knew how to keep me on the edge of my seat – there were some genuinely spooky moments! I could feel my heart starting to beat faster as I was reading, so I think it’s fair to say she knows how to build tension.
Final verdict: This came close to a five star read for me. I really enjoyed it, a lot more than I expected to. I had to force myself to put the book down at times so I could cook and clean and pay attention to the boyfriend but I really didn’t want to be doing any of these things… I wanted to be reading! In fact, it was so close that I’m just going to round up. 5 stars.
Extra notes: Language didn’t stick out to me. Sex… sort of takes place, though not in any detail, from the PoV of an outsider observer. Some intimate scenes with the hero and heroine. More aimed at adult readers than YA.