Saturday, August 4, 2012

A Question of Ghosts by Cate Culpepper

Publisher:        Bold Strokes Books     

Wow!  Wow!  Wow!

Maybe that’s enough to say for a review, but it would probably be a good idea to explain what brought on the exclamations.

Cate Culpepper has written an excellent paranormal mystery with perfect pacing and terrific main characters.  Don’t plan on reading it if you have something pressing to do, like sleeping, because you’ll want to finish the book first.  The only readers who might be disappointed are those who want lots of romance.  Give this book a chance though.  There is a romance in the story and it’s not like any one you’ve ever read.

Becca Healy accepted a long time ago that she was a person scarred by the circumstances of her parents’ deaths when she was five years old.  Who wouldn’t be when your mother shoots your father and then herself while you’re sitting in the next room?  At least, that’s what everyone has been told happened; however, when Becca hears her dead mother’s voice saying to her “Not true,” she needs to find out what the message means.  That brings her to Dr. Joanne Call, an expert in the collection of ghost voices and interpreting what they mean.  The warm, effusive Becca and terse, distant Joanne make an odd pair as they investigate this mystery and are drawn closer together.  When a series of incidents makes it clear that someone does not want them to discover the truth, survival becomes as important as collecting the information.  Fortunately for the women, Becca’s mother is determined to help them from the grave….or wherever she is.

Culpepper sets her novel in a part of Seattle called Capitol Hill, which is being gentrified and in a state of decline at the same time.  The tone of the story is set by the fact that much of it happens in an old house across the street from a cemetery; the house where the deaths occurred.  One of the interesting aspects is that both of the main characters, rather than being afraid of the cemetery find it a place of comfort, even at night, especially near a memorial statue of a woman and child.  Becca and Joanne frequently retreat there to sort out their thoughts and draw strength from the woman.  The statue actually exists and is featured on the book’s cover, which sets the atmosphere before the reading ever begins.  It’s an outstanding example of how a cover can help establish a book’s theme.

Joanne Call is an intriguing character.  She suffers from a personality disorder that is close to Asperger’s Syndrome and that makes her almost incapable of relating to people or dealing with social situations.  It does give her a laser like ability to focus on her work and to interpret facial expressions.  Putting her together with Becca Healy, who is described by everyone as the most loveable person possible, would seem to be asking for trouble, but Becca has her own problems to cope with.  Watching them play off of each other as Joanne provides strength and stability and Becca provides warmth is skillful character study.  To keep them from becoming too intense though, Culpepper throws in occasional humor to lighten the atmosphere.  These are two characters that it would be fun to follow further to see how they develop.

A Question of Ghosts is a totally enjoyable book to read.  The paranormal aspects seem believable and should not bother those who are skeptics.  The mystery unfolds gradually and the ultimate answer stays unknown until the last pages of the book and offers a surprise.  Giving this book a high recommendation is easy. 

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