October brings ghost stories to book store shelves in the same heaping drifts as the leaves on the ground. I indulged in a few this month that are worth sharing. Continuing September’s more-romance-than-horror kick, I start with Gull Harbor by Kathryn Knight. The heroine, Claire, is a psychic who can commune with ghosts. After giving up on law school, her father’s chosen path for her life, Claire desperately needs a job. When she takes on clearing a house of a dangerous poltergeist, she doesn’t expect to run into her college boyfriend, Max. Max was the one that convinced her to embrace her gift, and his father’s ghost was the first one she communicated with. Their relationship ended terribly, leaving Claire completely unwilling to take Max’s help or heed his good advice to leave the haunted house alone. The love story took the expected turns while the ghost story stayed fresh and different. Small spoiler – the ghost doesn’t speak English, so Claire’s well-meaning attempts to offer it help are useless. House fires, small injuries, the problems keep mounting until Claire catches the clue. It was refreshing to see a ghost story where the ghost wasn’t the same nationality, ethnicity, and general ‘type’ as the other characters. Because if there are ghosts, why would they all be white, English speakers? I enjoyed this story so much I immediately picked up Silver Lake another ghost story by Kathryn Knight.
In Silver Lake a group of high school friends come together to make one last effort to investigate the disappearance of Brittany, the party girl of the group. Ghostly experiences start almost at once: puddles of lake water appear inside house, doors open and close on their own, and cabinets open themselves without a sound. The four friends made for believable, fun characters, although I admit to some trouble with their timelines. Somehow they all achieved their dreams by age 25. While it’s certainly possible to be a successful teacher, a mother of twins, the owner of a well-established business, or an indispensable corporate manager in 3 years after college the story ‘clicked’ better for me when I thought of them as being 28 or 30 instead. With that adjustment I was able to lose myself in the many twists and turns of the ghost story. I guessed right only half the time, and there were definitely things that blind-sided me completely. The ending impressed me for being unique and realistic.
The last ghost story on my Kindle was The Quilter’s Ghost: An Elm Creek Quilts Story by Jennifer Chiaverini. I’ve read all of the Elm Creek Quilt books and even made some quilts from the patterns Chiaverini supplies in each book. Most ghost stories follow a formula, introduce the ghostly happenings, find out a little about the ghost, put the hero/heroine in danger, and then end things when they discover the ghost’s origins. This short story covers only the usual two acts, neglecting most of the danger and all of the back story. I wish there had been more. It’s my own fault for not noticing before I bought that the story was only 35 (Kindle) pages.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Crimson Peak, a new movie by director Guillermo del Toro that’s being billed as a horrorifying ghost story. In the first few minutes of the film a character says “It isn’t a ghost story, but a story with a ghost in it”. That’s how I would describe Crimson Peak – a Gothic romance with all of the usual trappings – big, decrepit house, lavish costumes, innocent, plucky heroine, brooding hero – and it also happens to have a ghost or two in it. If you like historic or Gothic romances don’t be scared off by the director or the spooky reviews.