The Ghost and Charlie Muir
I’ve enjoyed a number of books by Felice Stevens, and when I saw she was writing something a bit different – a love story with a paranormal twist – I was intrigued and eager to read it. The Ghost and Charlie Muir is a cute and tender standalone romance, in which our protagonists are helped along the road to love by a (mostly) friendly spirit. The title is clearly a nod to the well-known film about the ghost of a cantankerous sea-captain who falls in love with his human ‘hauntee’, but the similarities don’t go much beyond the title and the inclusion of a ghost on a mission.
Charlie Muir grew up in the foster system, so he’s surprised to discover that he’s inherited a house from a great-great aunt. His hasn’t been an easy life – moved from home to home he was never able to put down roots or make friends, being openly gay meant he was often bullied and his adult relationships haven’t been stellar either. He’s learned the hard way not to trust and to expect the worst.
His neighbour, Ian Gregg, works as an electrician and contractor, but he also used to look after the garden of the house next door. Since Miss Muir’s death two years earlier, the place has been closed up and the garden left to go a bit wild, but he hopes that whoever has just moved in will take care of the beautiful trees and flowers he’s inherited. He’s working in his own garden when his new neighbour introduces himself and offers Ian a drink – and Ian is caught unawares by a sense of familiarity… which makes no sense, as they’ve never met before.
Also making no sense is the prickle of attraction that sizzles through him when their hands touch in a simple greeting, or the way Charlie appears to be surrounded by a strange golden glow… Ian puts it all down to his still being hungover from the night before.
As they talk, Charlie mentions that something weird happened the other day when he brought a guy home. He tells Ian how the bedroom lights started flickering on and off, the chandelier above the bed started swinging back and forth and when the mirror fell off the wall, Charlie saw the face of a woman dressed in old-fashioned clothes staring disapprovingly back at him. Ian stops by to check out the wiring the next evening, and after doing that, offers to help Charlie to go through the stuff he’s found boxed up in the bedrooms. Exploring the attic and the upstairs further, they find a tiny, hidden room, and in it an old, locked box which, when they manage to open it, contains an Army death certificate for someone called Edward Robinson. Later that night, Charlie has a dream or vision of himself yet not himself – Edward – crawling through mud as screams and the sound of gunfire rend the air. And as it fades, images of Edward kissing another young man – Robert – followed by the appearance of the woman from the mirror, who informs him that he and Ian have much work to do.
Neither Charlie nor Ian can see what a decades-old story can possibly have to do with them, but the more they learn about Edward and Robert, the more intrigued they become and soon, they’re eager to find out what happened to them, two young men who were so clearly in love with each other but unable to do anything about it.
And as that love story progresses, so does the one between Charlie and Ian. Ian has always been something of a ladies’ man and has never been attracted to men, but there’s something about Charlie that draws him in and makes him start to question things he’s always believed about himself, and to admit that there’s been something missing from his past relationships with women. But something about Charlie just does it for him; and although it takes him a while to get his head around it, once he’s accepted that, he doesn’t freak out and is fully open to exploring the burgeoning feelings he has for Charlie. The difficult part is going to be convincing Charlie that Ian really does want to be with him for more than sex; Charlie has been there, done that, fallen for straight guys who only wanted some action on the side, and it always ended badly – sometimes even violently – for him.
Charlie and Ian are likeable characters, although Charlie is generally too passive, and his non-existent self-esteem has him coming across as overly needy and even, dare I say it, a bit whiny. He’s sweet and he’s been through a lot, so his mass of insecurities make perfect sense, but his tendency to expect the worst was tiring at times, and there was one occasion I really wanted him to stop acting like a kicked puppy. Ian, on the other hand, is a live wire. He’s outgoing and confident, but once he realises he’s all in for Charlie, is prepared to wait for him to catch up and realise that Ian wants to be with him for real.
On the downside though, the story is quite repetitive in places, and while I appreciate a slow burn, the trips to clubs and the ghostly interference and sabotaged dates were repetitive and felt like padding. And although I really liked the idea of the two parallel love stories, the significance of Edward and Robert’s story is very obvious very quickly, and I didn’t understand why, if it was so important for Charlie and Ian to know their story, it was doled it out piecemeal rather than being told in one go. Okay, logically I know why not – if that had happened, that there would have been no book. But once the ghost had their attention, whether it was by showing them visions of the past on the TV or in dreams, or by simply talking to them face-to-face, there was no reason I could see for it to be dragged out over several visits.
I liked the premise of the dual love story, but it didn’t quite work, and the ghostly shenanigans weren’t as spooky or as funny as I’d hoped. The Ghost and Charlie Muir kept me entertained, but the repetitiveness and a rather wishy-washy main character keep it from earning a recommendation.