The first two books in Laura Spinella’s Ghost Gifts trilogy of paranormal mysteries introduces readers to Aubrey Ellis, a woman who has been able to communicate with the dead since she was a child. These novels centre around Aubrey and her husband, a hard-nosed investigative reporter, but in Echo Moon, the final book in the set, the focus shifts to Aubrey and Levi’s son, Pete, a talented photojournalist who spends his life reporting from some of the world’s most dangerous places. It’s an intriguing story that, after a slow start, becomes a compelling one, as the author skilfully weaves together two interconnected stories – one, the story of a young singer in the early part of the twentieth century, and the other concerning Pete’s search for the truth about a shattering event that took place shortly after the end of the First World War.
Aubrey Ellis’ psychic gifts – or her curse – have been passed to her son, who has, for as long as he can remember, been aware that he has lived a past life. He has memories and/or visions of events from the early part of the last century and remembers fighting, and then documenting events as a war photographer, in World War One. Pete also lives with a massive burden of guilt, knowing that he killed the woman he loved – whom he knows only as Esme – in that past life, and that weight is so heavy that it often threatens to consume him utterly. The images of war that haunt him day after day and night after night are so disturbing that he can’t bear the idea of spending more time with his memories and trying to find out the truth about Esme; and the violent outbursts that inevitably follow his visions make him even more determined to leave his past in the past. Being around his mother seems to intensify his ‘gift’ and increase the number and vividness of his recollections; and when Echo Moon opens, Pete has just returned home after two years spent embedded with troops in the Middle-East and other war-torn places. He spends his life searching for numbness by way of twenty-first century wars, running from his past life by throwing himself into untold dangers in this one.
Aubrey is naturally concerned for her son, and can see the toll his way of life is taking on him. She knows he is haunted by the belief he was a murderer in his past life, and wants him to seek help in the form of regression therapy, but Pete is dead set against it. But when, for the first time ever, he feels Esme’s spirit reaching for him in his present life, he starts to realise that something is changing, as his past and present lives have never intersected before. When he offers to go to Long Island to check out a property that Aubrey has recently inherited from her grandmother, Pete is staggered to discover yet more connections between his family and his past life.
With the help of Ailish Montague – a young actress who is the niece of Zeke Dublin (an important character in the previous book, Foretold) – Pete begins to make connections between seemingly random objects he finds in the house, his previous life and Esme – but it’s not until he is brought to the stark reality that he stands to lose those most dear to him if he continues to avoid facing up to the past that he finally decides it’s time to stop running and start putting the pieces together. Only once he’s done that will he be free to live his own life, free from his horrific memories and the burden of guilt.
Laura Spinella pulls her disparate storylines together very cleverly and together, they make for a captivating read. Sections set in 1917 follow Esme as she falls in love with Phin Seaborn, a young artist and photographer, while those set in the present follow Pete’s discoveries as his past life is gradually revealed and its connections to his present one prove to be stronger than he could ever have imagined. The author does a great job in depicting the difficult family dynamics in the Ellis/St. John household; both Aubrey and Levi are desperately worried about Pete and don’t quite know how to help him, while Pete is distancing himself from the parents he loves, knowing he’s hurting them but with no idea what to do for the best.
My one criticism – which may well be more to do with me than with the book – is that I found it a little difficult to get into at first, and wondered if not having read the previous novels had placed me at something of a disadvantage. Fortunately, Ms. Spinella’s writing is confident and engaging; she brings the past vividly to life and creates satisfying emotional connections between her principal characters, so it didn’t take long for me to become invested, and I’m happy to say that Echo Moon works fairly well as a standalone, so potential readers needn’t worry about picking it up on its own. In fact, I enjoyed its terrific blend of mystery, suspense and paranormal (with a bit of historical fiction and romance thrown in for good measure), so much that I intend to go back to read the other books in the series.