While I read a paranormal romance every now and then, I can’t recall reading an old-fashioned ghost story so reminiscent of 1950s horror flicks wherein a reluctant hero must rush to save everybody in a house that is best described as haunted. Set in the notorious town of Diablo Springs, Arizona, Whispers gives us two romances, one of which is a poignant tale from the 1890s that in itself was haunting even without the presence of any ghosts.
17-year-old Gracie Beck left Diablo Springs at her grandmother’s insistence when it was discovered she was in the family way. Her grandmother didn’t seemed upset about her pregnancy as much as scared for Gracie, even insisting on never seeing or speaking to her again. After years of hard work and determination, Gracie is now a successful graphic artist and proud mother of a 16 year-old daughter, Analise.
Reilly Alexander is an up-and-coming author who wonders if people read his books for his literary genius or because of his short-lived fame as lead singer and songwriter for his former group Badlands, one-hit wonders formed during his college years. Reilly shaved his head recently in protest over something he doesn’t yet understand and sports large tattoos on his arms that bring the women flocking to his side. His brother, a resident of Diablo Springs, shot himself just a month ago and Reilly can’t seem to concentrate on much of anything. Any ideas he once had for his next book have disappeared and he is feeling slightly panicked about what next to do with his life when three bizarre strangers approach him at a book signing and challenge him to travel with them to his hometown of Diablo Springs. Before Reilly realizes what is happening, he is heading home looking for his next story with the oddest formation of storm clouds hovering over his SUV.
That same evening, Analise and her boyfriend, Brendan, are in Diablo Springs to celebrate her birthday. Brendan has been obsessed with the town he discovered just weeks before and it seems the perfect birthday surprise for Analise, who has never seen her parents’ hometown. However, she isn’t too impressed with her birthday surprise and her nervousness is compounded with the overwhelming feeling that they must not tarry in the menacing town. When a strange pale light hovering over some abandoned springs frightens them as they leave, they lose all direction and drive into a gaping ravine at 70 miles per hour.
Diablo Springs definitely has a reputation as a ghost town and its dried up springs are famous for their Dead Lights believed to lure victims to their deaths. Gracie’s grandmother owns The Diablo, the only hostelry in town – or rather she did until her death earlier that night by the ruins of the old springs. The Diablo still resembles the saloon and house of ill repute it once was and represents quite a wretched past for the Beck women. Reilly and his entourage arrive at The Diablo ready to settle in for their visit despite the fact that the owner has just died. It seems that those clouds following Reilly to Diablo Springs have settled over the town and are now producing one of the worse storms anyone can remember. The unwelcome guests are subjected to all sorts of inexplicable phenomena such as the strong scent of food cooking when there is none, doors slamming repeatedly, and unexplained power outages.
Gracie and Reilly share quite a history but not the sort you usually encounter in “return to hometown” romances. They haven’t seen each other since that night almost 17 years ago when Reilly lied to protect his brother’s guilt at a great cost to Gracie. Reilly always regretted his actions but never thought he would have the opportunity to make amends. When Gracie arrives at The Diablo, frantic about her daughter’s recent accident and reeling about the news of her grandmother’s death, the shock of seeing Reilly only adds to her numbness. The development of their relationship is the soul-searching type that held my interest somewhat but remained secondary to other aspects of the story. While I appreciate love scenes, Gracie and Reilly’s sexual encounter was superfluous in a book crowded with frankly many other attention-grabbing scenes and seemed out of character for Gracie.
The most intriguing aspect of Whispers is the romance between Ella and Captain Sawyer set in the 1890s. After witnessing the brutal murder of her parents, grandmother, and brother, Ella comes to Diablo Springs under the protection of Captain Sawyer and endeavors to make a new life. As you would expect for an old West tale, there is more than one evil villain in their harsh and relentless world.
Usually books with a large number of secondary characters tend to bore me with their required introductions and presence, but that was not the case here. Each was significant to the overall plot and those from the old West story were especially memorable. Memorable, as well, are the characters of Reilly’s brother and Gracie’s grandmother. They may not have ghosts flitting around, but their past actions play heavily into the storyline.
In the end, I found myself wondering if all the many issues in Whispers were resolved, but that may have been the author’s intention. A pleasurable reading experience, its ghostly suspense certainly kept me on the edge of my seat. There were times I wanted to hold my hand over my face and peek through my fingers to see what was happening next, but I admit I am a big chicken in such cases. Rather than the primary romance, it is the ghostly apparitions and secondary old West romance that left the biggest impressions on me and definitely left me feeling rather haunted.