Desert Isle Keeper
Give Up the Ghost
Jenn Burke’s Not Dead Yet earned a place on my keeper shelf earlier this year for many reasons, not least of which were the great storytelling, excellent worldbuilding, memorable characters, snappy dialogue and unusual premise. Wes Cooper was murdered in 1933 by his lover Michael, but was resurrected by Michael’s sister – a witch. Somehow, she overdid it, not only bringing Wes back to life, but making him immortal, which changed his life in many ways apart from the obvious one. He’s made a living as a ‘retrieval specialist’, using his ability to slip between the living plane and the otherplane (which exists between the living and the dead), to sneak in and out of places others cannot access in order to recover items for interested parties. Witnessing a murder while in the otherplane was the kicking off point for Not Dead Yet, which saw Wes reconnect with the love of his life, detective Hudson Rojas, and then work with him to solve the murder, making some truly disturbing discoveries along the way. As Wes and his rag-taggle band of friends and allies fought together to prevent a powerful demon taking corporeal form, something even weirder than usual happened to him, and at the end of the story he realised that his (mostly low-level) magical powers had somehow been increased to a massive degree – and he’s not entirely sure if he’s strong enough to control them.
Give Up the Ghost opens some months after those events, and Wes still hasn’t told Hudson or his best friend, Lexi, what happened to him. It’s not that he’s deliberately holding out on them, it’s just that, what with one thing and another – Hudson’s retirement from the Toronto PD, setting up their new PI agency, settling into being a couple again, Lexi needing to rest following the clean-up after their battle with the demon, and helping their friend, Evan, to come to terms with his part in it – basically, there just hasn’t been a good time. And now, months later, it feels too weird to bring it up. Plus, Wes is a master at avoidance and decides he’s better off not knowing exactly what the Crown of Osiris did to him, because that way he can hide from it. But he’s struggling; not only to keep the secret, but to keep his powers under control and his fears at bay – and it’s taking its toll on him.
A bunch of “weird shit” happening at their local coffee shop is the first clue that something is badly wrong. Wes, Lexi and Evan arrive to discover the place overrun by imps, who must be coming through some sort of crack or portal into the living plane – but from where? Imps don’t exist in the otherplane, so they must be coming from Beyond, the place where spirits pass after death and where demons live – but in order to do that, the imps must have been summoned. But by whom – and why? Before Wes can contemplate that, however, he and the others must seal the breach – and not for the first time, he berates himself for not coming clean about his enhanced magic, as he instead of doing it himself, he has to channel some of his magic into Lexi so that she can close it.
Wes wants to find out what happened – after all, they’re investigators now, right? – but Hudson insists they’re not the paranormal police and wants to leave it alone. Things between Wes and Hudson have been a bit on edge for a while; Hudson wants them to move in together (again) but Wes keeps turning him down, scared that Hudson will find out the truth about his magic and everything will change between them. Even though he’s well aware that his own experience now strongly parallels what happened to Hudson when he was turned (into a vampire), Wes still can’t bring himself to reach out. He’s terrified that Hudson will look at him differently and that their relationship will fall apart. Again.
When Lexi receives a phone call from Kee, a friend who runs a shelter for homeless LGBTQIA teens, telling her that some of the kids there report having seen ghosts, she and Wes head over to Aurora House to see what’s going on. Kee tells them about a mirror that spontaneously shattered, a resident who watched scratches appear on his arm, one who felt someone nudge him as he walked down the stairs… and Wes is immediately on the alert. It’s not unusual for ghosts to want to communicate with the living, but for them to persist when it’s clear that none of the living around them are sensitive enough to be able to do it? That bothers him. He’s bothered even more by the fact he can see ghosts in his normal, human state, which isn’t something he’s ordinarily able to do.
The portal in the coffee shop, ghosts haunting places they’d never been when alive and trying to communicate in the living plane – and then, the appearance of Michael, who is clearly trying to warn Wes about something; all these things point to some sort of movement or tear in the fabric of the boundaries that exist between the different planes. And the more Wes, Hudson and their friends discover, the clearer it becomes that it’s imperative the breach is sealed once and for all… and that there’s only one way to do that. And only one person who can do it. But at what cost?
Give Up the Ghost is a terrific sequel to Not Dead Yet, full of all the ingredients that made that first book such a great read. The storyline is compelling, suspenseful and heartbreaking – I choked up near the end! – the characters are well-defined and complex, with flaws that make them seem that much more real, and the relationships between them are brilliantly drawn. Wes and Hudson are going through the sorts of teething troubles experienced by many couples, none of which is helped by the fact they’re both keeping secrets; but though things sometimes seem rocky, they’re both committed to making things work between them this time around. They’re great characters – individually and together – and I continue to enjoy Wes’ very distinctive voice and the way he’s still growing as a character and working to break out of his long-ingrained habit of self-interest. Even though he can sometimes be frustrating, his awareness of his flaws is truly appealing, as is his fierce desire to protect those he loves, Hudson and his ‘found family’.
Give Up the Ghost is a fantastic blend of romance, humour, chills and suspense and is, fortunately, one of those rare sequels that’s as good as the first in the series. Both books are going to be sitting right next to each other on my keeper shelf, and I’m eagerly awaiting Graveyard Shift, which is set for release later this year.