Ghost Horse has an absolutely beautiful cover. I mention it upfront because it’s the most noteworthy thing about the book. Patricia Rosemoor’s entry in the Eclipse Gothic Romance promotion isn’t a bad read, but it never quite manages to rise above middling either.
As the title indicates, a dead horse is involved. In the prologue, an unnamed person leads a stallion named Centaur to a cliff, then spooks the horse, driving it over the edge to its death. It seems like the perfect crime, until the horse’s killer spots a woman nearby who witnessed the whole thing. I was kind of ambivalent about this opening. It strikes an appropriate tone, but also reveals too much about the story.
In any case, Chapter One begins with our heroine, Chloe Morgan, traveling from Chicago to take a position on a horse farm in northwestern Illinois. Damian Graylord, the owner of Graylord Pastures, needs a new tutor for his teenage daughter Nissa. The position opened up after the previous tutor, Dawn Reed, abruptly disappeared. She left a note saying she was eloping, and the police decided there were no signs of foul play. However, Dawn was Chloe’s best friend. Chloe hasn’t heard from her since she disappeared, and she knows Dawn wouldn’t have gone this long without contacting her. Suspecting something terrible has happened to her friend, Chloe takes the job to find out the truth.
When Chloe arrives, she finds herself facing a multitude of mysteries and odd elements that will be familiar to Gothic fans. The cool, brooding Damien is dark-haired, while his open, easygoing brother Alex is fair. Damien’s wife vanished under mysterious circumstances a while ago. He claims she left, but his daughter says she’s dead. The forbidding old housekeeper who used to work for Damien’s wife is far from welcoming to Chloe. At night, Chloe hears strange noises coming from the attic where she was warned never to go. As if that isn’t enough, one night while walking around the grounds, she spots the titular ghost horse running in the mist.
The overload of familiar elements might sound cliched, but they’re kind of the point of a book like this, and I enjoyed the way the author weaved them into her story. It’s a little unwieldy, but for the most part the various pieces are combined convincingly into one cohesive story. Ghost Horse is a minor improvement over the last few Eclipse Gothic romances. It’s smoothly written and passes easily, with the author delivering some decent atmosphere.
Though it’s a nice enough read while it lasts, it’s also pretty forgettable due to a number of weaknesses. The character development is close to nonexistent. The author reveals that Chloe’s father abandoned her in foster care after the death of her mother. When Damien threatens to send Nissa away, Chloe sticks up for the girl, remembering the way her own father rejected her. That’s about it in terms of character depth. Other than her friendship with Dawn, we learn little else about her. That’s still more than the reader learns about any of the other characters, who are all thin as paper. Damien isn’t really all that dark. He’s not much of anything really, and the love story fails to generate any real sparks.
For the most part the author writes in an old-fashioned style that’s effectively Gothic. The contrast between the timeless style and the more modern elements is occasionally jarring. The author mentions the characters using computers and checking email, but the devices seem out of place in the world these characters inhabit. When Damien first meets Chloe, he asks her if she has a lover. He quickly explains that he wants to make sure she isn’t going to run off like the previous nanny, but really, who would put it like that? Probably a hero in an old-school Gothic, but it just felt incongruous here. The book is never exactly old-fashioned or contemporary, but sits uneasily somewhere in between.
The mystery is reasonable. The author provides a number of suspects who all appear equally suspicious, keeping the whodunit unpredictable. At the same time, when the villain’s identity is revealed, it feels arbitrary. I’m not sure it was possible to guess who the killer was, because there’s too little leading up to the reveal. It just kind of happens, and any of the other suspects could have easily been substituted for the “real” villain without making much of a difference.
The narrative structure is somewhat odd, and only partly adhering to traditional Gothic structure. While all of the sections from Chloe’s perspective are narrated in first-person, as one would expect in a novel of this sub-genre, she does not narrate the entire novel. Not only that, but sections involving other characters’ points of view are written in the third person. This didn’t really bother me – it just seemed pointless. It’s fine to break from tradition, but there didn’t seem to be any reason why Chloe’s sections couldn’t have been in third-person as well. It’s not as though the reader gets any unique insight from her first-person narrative that we wouldn’t in third.
Ghost Horse is a decent read while it lasts, though it’s too thin and shallow to make much of a lasting impression. I recommend checking out the cover. Unless you’re a gothic junkie desperate for a fix, I can’t really say the same for the book.