Series: GHOST SEER
Plot Type: Soul-Mate Romance SMR
Ratings: Violence—3; Sensuality—3-4; Humor—3
Publisher and Titles:
Ghost Seer (Berkley, 4/2014)
Ghost Talker (InterMix, 2/2016; audio and e-book only)
NOVEL 5: Ghost Maker
The heroine is Clare Milena Cermak, who has just inherited her eccentric great-aunt's multimillion-dollar estate. That should make her happy, but what comes along with the money scares her to death. Grant-Aunt Sandra aways claimed to be a medium, insisting that she could see ghosts and communicate with the dead. Although her family always thought that she was a fraud, Aunt Sandra accumulated her wealth by charging large sums of money to people who wanted to speak with their dead relatives or friends. As soon as Clare returns to her home in Denver after clearing up Sandra's estate business in Chicago, she begins seeing and hearing ghosts…everywhere she goes. She also discovers that Aunt Sandra had a ghost dog, a Labrador named Enzo, who insists that he will be living with Clare from now on. Clare is an accountant—a logical, down-to-earth CPA—and she absolutely does not believe in ghosts, so she is pretty sure that she is beginning to go crazy.
Aunt Sandra saw and heard only the ghosts of people who died in Chicago and New York City in the 1920s and 1930s, but the ones Clare sees are Old West phantoms who lived between 1850 and 1900 (e.g., cowboys, gold miners, gun fighters, saloon girls). As her ghostly dog explains to her, "The human mind can only comprehend ghosts from one slice of history."
A recurring element in the novels is "Counting Crows," a folk poem about crows. Every time Zach sees a certain number of crows, a related line in the poem comes true in some fashion. I found several versions of this poem, but none is an exact match to this one, which the author includes just before chapter 1:
In the first two novels, the author uses legendary people from the Old West as the ghosts at the center of the plots: Jack Slade, the infamous gunfighter, in book one; and J. Dawson Hidgepath, the amorous miner, in book two.
One element that struck me as odd is the fact that the author always tells us the exact per cent of the bill that Clare leaves as tips for waiters and cab drivers, and she always explains why it varies from experience to experience (e.g., fifteen per cent because the restaurant was self serve; twenty per cent in a restaurant with table service). Why do we need to know this?
NOVEL 2: Ghost Layer
NOTE: You might want to read the "Author's Note" (p. 293) before you read the novel just to get some background on the Hidgepath legend. Click HERE for more information about Buckskin Joe, the ghost town on which Owens based Curly Wolf. Click HERE and HERE for more information about J. Dawson Hidgepath, the amorous miner.
When Clare, Zach, and Enzo (Clare's ghostly dog) move to Laurentine's ranch, Clare immediately comes under attack by someone who doesn't want her to find out the truth about Hidgepath's long-ago death. Before the mystery is resolved, Clare has fallen down a flight of stairs, been shot at, poisoned, and bombed—and she's got the cracked ribs and body bruises to prove it. You would think that the first thing Clare would do would be to interview Hidgepath about the circumstances of his death, but she doesn't get around to doing that until page 201. That entire scene (pp. 199-203) really belongs much earlier in the story. Up until that point, Clare has just been wandering around the ranch house, getting snippy with the loathsome Laurentine, dealing with the surly housekeeper, and sneaking off for lust-filled interludes with Zach. Obviously, the story line is kind of thin, but the lead characters are attractive and sympathetic, and the lascivious roaming ghost is quite entertaining.
One of the problems Clare has is that most people don't believe in ghosts, and they view people like her as frauds. Clare is being forced to help these ghosts (at the cost of her life if she refuses), and she wants some respect. Here is a humorous scene in which she teaches the skeptical unbeliever, Laurentine, a ghostly lesson when he holds out his business card to her. (You have to remember that Enzo, her dog, is a ghost and is, therefore, invisible to all by Clare.) First, she gives Enzo's paw a good, long shake, making her hand icy cold. Then, "she let go of Enzo's paw and saw Mr. Laurentine and Zach watching her, the other two men, Rickman and Rossi, ostentatiously looking elsewhere. Chin high, she strode over to Mr. Laurentine, and began to take the card, making sure her cold, cold fingers brushed his. His hand jerked and the card fell. And Enzo lifted it to her fingers. 'I didn't see that,' Rickman mattered. 'I didn't either,' Rossi said."
The title of this book comes from the way Clare deals with Hidgepath's ghost. As Enzo explains, "…ghosts float or haunt so they need to be laid to rest. Ghost layers." Clare has several conversations with "the Other" while she is at the ranch. "The Other" is a spirit that occasionally possesses Enzo and either gives Clare advice or criticizes her lack of progress in dealing with her ghostly tasks. The spirit is getting impatient with Clare, believing that she isn't spending enough time studying her late aunt's journals. He/It keeps reminding her that if she doesn't step up the pace, she will die and be replaced by her young niece, Dora—an option that Clare wishes to avoid at all costs.
Clare and Zach's relationship moves forward a few steps during their time at the ranch, although Zach continues to deny that he has any psychic skills. The scenes in which Clare and Zach visit Zach's emotionally damaged mother add many new details about Zach's childhood and the reasons for his denial of his prognostication talents (which are tied to the crow-counting childhood rhyme described in the World-Building section of this post).
We meet two new characters in this book who will probably turn up in future adventures: Desiree Rickman, Tony's attractive, irrepressible wife, and Harry Rossi, an ex-military guy who does bodyguard work for Rickman Security. Both play supporting roles in both the investigation of Hidgepath's bones and the search for Clare's attacker.
This book can easily be read as a standalone because Owens provides a summary of the essential world-building details in the first few pages. Click HERE to read an excerpt from this book on the Ghost Layer page at amazon.com. Just click on the cover art on that page for access to the first two chapters.
In the next book, Ghost Killer, Clare will go up against her first evil ghost when she has to rescue Zach's landlady's ghost-seeing great-grandson from a phantom who is threatening to eat his soul. The first chapter of Ghost Killer is included at the end of Ghost Layer.
NOVEL 3: Ghost Killer
The target of this murderous ghost is seven-year-old Caden LuCette, great-grandson of Zach Slade's landlady, Barbara Flinton. Zach is Clare's boyfriend, a private investigator who was formerly a deputy sheriff. According to Mrs. Flinton, the malevolent ghost has been harassing poor Caden, threatening to eat him up. He parents think that he is having nightmares and refuse to believe his tale of woe. In desperation, Caden calls his great-grandmother for help, and she, in turn, enlists the aid of Clare and Zach.
Because this is the first evil ghost that Clare has faced and because she has no idea how to kill a ghost, she is—naturally—quite frightened to be heading into a life-threatening ghostly battle. She has to do it, though, because her gift requires her to help those in need, and Caden definitely qualifies as being needy. Zach and Clare decide to pretend that they are tourists and in order to keep their friendship with Mrs. Flinton a secret from Caden's parents.
Just before they leave Denver, Enzo (Clare's ghost dog—her spirit guide) shows her a magic knife (made of human bone) that is hidden in a secret compartment in an old chest. (Shades of Nancy Drew!) Enzo claims that this is the only weapon that can kill a ghost and that before she can use it she must soak it in her blood. So…we eventually get a long and bloody scene in which she does that. But, oddly, she doesn't activate the knife until very late in the book, even though the ghost attacks her numerous times.
The story follows Clare and Zach as they travel to Creede, Colorado, and get settled into the motel owned by Caden's parents. Unfortunately, when Caden has a screaming fit that night (because of a ghostly attack), Clare and Zach come to his rescue and are forced to admit that they have been sent by Mrs. Flinton. The enraged parents evict them from their room, and the couple moves on to another hotel. From that point on, they wander around the town and the surrounding countryside trying to figure out what to do next, stopping for fully described meals at regular intervals.
As the story proceeds (at a snail's pace), Clare and Zach meet Mason Pais IV, the deputy sheriff, and Mason Pais, Jr., his father (the former sheriff). Eventually the elder Pais becomes involved in the search for the evil ghost.
This book has quite a few repetitious bedroom scenes that are graphically described—detail by awkward detail. Unfortunately, Zach is a traditionalist without any sexual imagination, and Clare is completely passive throughout each of those scenes. So…they're just as dull in the bedroom as they are out in the world. In fact, Clare spends most of her life being passive, even though she keeps reminding us of her wild Gypsy blood. Zach, meanwhile, never misses a chance to let us know that he is walking around with a hard-on. (No wonder he can't focus on finding clues to solve the case.)
The previous two books were mildly entertaining, but this one was kind of a train wreck—a muddled plot filled with inconsistencies, improbabilities, and extremely awkward dialogue. Clare has always been a bit of a naval-gazer, always wandering off into anguished interior monologues about her horrible "gift" and how it has ruined her life. Now she piles on even more angst as she worries about her burgeoning relationship with Zach and her fears about facing the evil ghost. Here is a typical example from one of Clare's moaning monologues: "She was letting fear affect her. She'd have to learn how to get over it, move on, somehow. She wished fervently that she knew how to meditate better. That would work, wouldn't it? Eek! Letting fear distract her..." And on and on and on. Most of the book consists of these monologues and of scenes in which the couple is either wandering around searching for whatever or defending themselves from the ghost's attacks or eating a meal.
Clare and Zach don't pull together any meaningful clues until very late in the story, so the pace is very, very slow—so slow that I kept putting this book down and then forgetting to pick it back up again. The novel is only 290 pages long, and if you took out all of the awkward sex scenes, the lengthy interior monologues, and the overabundance of food descriptions, you would have a thinly plotted novella.
Here are a few improbabilities and oddities that caught my attention:
> Clare figures out details about the ghost by pulling them from thin air. After reading and rereading the same journal entries and articles over and over again, she magically comes up with major insights in the case, like the ghost's gender, for example. Throughout most of the book, Clare is sure that the ghost is one gender, but then all of a sudden she has a major epiphany—based on nothing—that the ghost is the other gender. She exclaims, "Thank heavens…We have something solid to go on!" Something solid?—I think not.
> Creede is a 4 1/2 hour drive from Denver, but Clare and Zach take a private plane to a town that is an hour away from Creede and then rent a car to drive the final distance. In the time it takes to get to the airport, board the plane, fly the short distance, deplane, and rent a car, they could have driven the entire way (a much cheaper option given that she is ultra-frugal).
> Clare always pays close attention to the amount of money she leaves for tips in restaurants, so when they have breakfast in Creede one morning at a diner-type restaurant, she makes sure that Zach leaves a 20% tip. But the amount of the tip is seven dollars, so that would mean that the cost of their breakfast was thirty-five dollars. No way would breakfast cost anywhere near that much in a small-town diner—or even most big-city diners.
> Owens never makes it entirely clear whether Zach can hear and see the ghosts. Sometimes he hears and understands them and sees them well enough to fight them, but other times, Clare has to tell him what they say and do.
> Among some odd word choices, this one was the weirdest (and wrongest): At one point, Clare and Zach are discussing a love triangle that went bad, and Zach says, "...it was sister vis-à-vis sister and wife vis-à-vis husband." The author should have used versus, which means against, not vis-à-vis, which means face to face
> And let's not forget the sprinkling of copy-proofing errors that slipped by the electronic spell-checker. In one example, Clare muses about her "yoga glass" which should, of course, have been "yoga class." Where have all the competent human copy proofers gone? They are certainly not being employed by major paperback publishers.
Click HERE to read an excerpt from Ghost Killer on its Amazon.com page. Just click on the cover art for access to the first chapter.
Along with the main plot, this novel includes two additional story lines: the developing romance between Clare and Zach and the after-effects Clare is suffering from the ghost-inflicted psychic wound she received from the villain of the previous novel. Owens spends a lot of time on the romance, mostly in the form of barely-there bedroom scenes and anguished interior monologues that have the two lovers whining about the fact that neither is willing to speak the "L" word out loud to the other. (Of course, it's a given—from the very beginning—that the two will declare their mutual love in the book's final scene.)
The basic plot is outlined in the publisher's blurb (above), and there isn't much more to say about it. Clare continues to pout about her horrible new ghost-seer job, and that gets very tiresome. Zach, on the other hand, is settling nicely into his new life as a private investigator, and he doesn't seem as bitter about his crippling leg injury as he did in previous books.
As for Clare's psychic wound: Beyond mentioning several times that the injury is causing Clare a lot of pain, Owens drops the subject. I took a look at the publisher's blurb for the fifth novel, and healing that injury appears to be the primary plot line of Ghost Maker.
This series continues to be problematic, chiefly because of the awkwardness of every aspect of the characterization—the stilted, unrealistic dialogue; the total lack of charisma shown by the two lead characters; and the one-dimensionality of each and every supporting character. Additionally, Owens cannot resist padding her already slight story with historical facts that—although having a historical connection with the story—are unnecessarily encyclopedic (actually, "Wiki-pedic") and tend to bring the action to a slow walk, or even to a halt. This time, the famous dead folks are Buffalo Bill Cody, Texas Jack Omohundro, and Jack's wife, Giuseppina (who makes a very brief appearance at the very end of the book).
Obviously, this is not one of my favorite series, and this is the last book that I will be reviewing. Apparently the publisher doesn't have much faith in the series either because this book and the next are currently available only in e-book and audio formats—not in print.
Click HERE to read or listen to an excerpt from Ghost Talker on the novel's Amazon.com page. Just click on the cover art or the "Listen" icon for access to the first chapter.