Haunted is a flawed and repetitous contemporary ghost story with an old-time gothic feel. Reading it is like entering a time warp; I wondered whether it was really set in the present-day or in the old South because of inconsistent characters, dialogue, and attitudes, and because certain plot threads could have been lifted from a far earlier period. Graham’s potentially intriguing concept derails with uninvolving (and some unlikable) characters, flowery writing and downright boring, over-explained plot points. Rebecca and Wuthering Heights have nothing to worry about.
Matt Stone is the book’s “chisel-jawed” borderline split-personality “hero.” He’s the sheriff of a small town in Virginia that’s steeped in the ways of the old South. Matt is unlike many of Stoneyville’s inhabitants in that he doesn’t believe in ghosts. Even though at least five people of varying trustworthiness have seen or felt the presence of a ghost in his very own house – Melody House – Matt does not and will not believe in ghosts. He and the author explain his position on ghosts ad nauseum. There is an incredible amount of over-explanation and repetition in this book – at times I felt I could have skipped whole chapters of the tedious, folksy dialogue and not missed a single new point.
Under pressure from friends and employees to get to the bottom of the odd goings-on in one of Melody House’s bedrooms, Matt reluctantly agrees to allow his father’s old friend, Adam Harrison, to investigate. Harrison owns Harrison Investigations, a DC-based company specializing in the investigation of and proving/debunking of mysterious, paranormal happenings.
Matt mistakenly believes that Harrison himself will arrive to conduct the investigation and is angered (beyond belief, really) to discover that Harrison has sent one of his employees, Darcy Tremayne, to begin the work before Harrison arrives. Darcy is beautiful, smart, poised, and used to being the object of speculation and skepticism. She is both a scientifically trained and paranormally gifted investigator who uses her extra abilities to locate and aid spirits trapped in this world. She doesn’t expect outright disrespect and bad treatment when she arrives at her latest assignment, which is what Matt subjects her to on multiple occasions. Yet she decides to stay anyway, to prove him wrong about her. Darcy is extremely stubborn and it’s one of her main flaws.
Matt Stone’s characterization is one of the weakest points of Haunted, and that’s saying something in a book this riddled with inconsistencies and annoyances. He’s by turns a heroic sheriff, an untrusting “man-done-wrong-by-bad-ex-wife,” or an unfeeling, self-righteous pain in the ass who inflicts any number of inappropriate and nasty comments/actions on Darcy. Trying to keep track of who this guy was kept me confused throughout. Some of that was no doubt by design, since we’re supposed to suspect Matt of some foul play later in the book, but the red herring never rings true, since it’s based on an extremely flimsy premise.
The author would have us believe that Matt and Darcy, despite their basic incompatibilities and immediate dislike for each other, fall in love anyway during the course of Darcy’s investigation and eventual solving of the Melody House mystery. She wants us to buy that somehow their wounded hearts reached out and found redemption in each other. I didn’t buy it for a second. Instead I concluded he was a major jerk and she was frustrating.
An extended cast of minor characters underscore the book’s problems. I’m usually a fan of multiple points-of-view, but in Haunted, minor characters’ opinions of the action don’t flesh out the story, in part because there are so many of them. Readers are privy to just about everyone’s thoughts in the book, resulting in head-hopping problems.
Penny, Melody House’s manager, has diarrhea of the mouth, and repeats herself endlessly to anyone who will listen. Unfortunately, the reader is forced to read all these conversations and get the same information from her over and over again, and it wasn’t that interesting to begin with, believe me. Two male characters are nearly interchangeable because they’re primarily in scenes together and both have names beginning with “C.” I had trouble telling them apart throughout. For me, the most notable (and laughable) difference between the “C” men was that one of the characters was Matt’s cousin who was “born on the other side of the blanket.” I thought that expression for illegitimacy (and the stigma associated with it) had gone by the wayside at least a few decades ago, but apparently not since the disparaging term and its apparent negative impact on “C” are repeated many times in Haunted.
As a ghost story, there are definitely some creepy, “spine-chilling” moments in Haunted as Darcy goes through her investigation, but for the most part my spine was prickling for other reasons as I read overwrought prose like this:
Maybe it was the way his arms wrapped around her, or that last eighth of an inch between their bodies was pressed away, the feel of the full length of his form, the sheerness of her clothing, the raw feel of the so nearly naked man.
Finishing this book was a chore, and unless you’re a devoted Heather Graham reader or so love ghost stories/gothics that you’ll read any that a publisher releases, I do not recommend this book. If you’re in the mood for a amazing gothic, try a classic by DuMaurier or Seton instead.
|Review Date:||September 23, 2003|