Are ghosts real?
Whether you believe in them or not, we’ve all thought about that question at some point or another. You may have wondered if a dearly departed loved one still watches over you, or perhaps you think that weird noise in the kitchen at night is a poltergeist who became attached to the home after he was murdered by a burglar before you purchased the home. And of course, there’s one heavy existential question behind that very question — is there life after death? I’m sure most of us want to believe there is, and if ghosts are real, then the chances of there being life after death multiply. If they don’t, there’s no way to be sure if existence ends when your lights go out. Author Jacqueline E. Smith explores this concept in her debut novel, Cemetery Tours, a fun, creepy look at what could be there waiting for us on the other side.
Michael is a run-down, somewhat lonely man who’s best friend and roommate is a ghost. But you wouldn’t know it to meet him. Michael hates having the gift of seeing and speaking to spirits who have yet to fully crossover, and hates when people know it even more. Although he enjoys the occasional chat with his grandmother on the patio of his family’s lake house, he hides his gift from the world, not only because he doesn’t want the attention or the ridicule that may come from having such an ability, but because if the ghosts knew, every one of them would seek him out for help. The concept reminded me a lot of the film, Ghost Town, in which Ricky Gervais suddenly acquires the ability to see ghosts, at which point they start following him around to make things right so they can officially move on into the afterlife. And though the concept isn’t explored to great detail in this book, there’s an open possibility that it might in the sequels, which is intriguing to say the least.
But Michael’s world gets turned upside down when Kate and her brother, Gavin, move in across the hall. Kate is a sweet, lovable girl-next-door who can’t remember the last couple of years due to a car accident, which would be intriguing enough on its own, but Jacqueline adds in a secondary affliction, one that renders her ability to recognize the name of colors obsolete. It’s an interesting character trait that I’m not sure does much for the character but add another, quirky feature. It’s more than possible that this idea may be fleshed out in future installments of the series, but in Cemetery Tours, Kate was never in a predicament where not knowing a color’s name was life or death, or even in a position where knowing would help in some small way.
The meet-cute between Michael and Kate is setup nicely, bonding them in a natural way that doesn’t feel forced outside of the heavy exposition that plagues the first few chapters, which tends to read more like an expo-dump than a fluid narrative. Unable to refrain from throwing everything out at us all at once and keeping us from having any sense of wonder as we subtly learn more throughout the book, Jacqueline seems to have transferred all of her original notes to the manuscript, force-feeding us every small detail through on-the-nose dialogue and prose. The thing is, once you’ve gotten past the first five or six chapters, Jacqueline really settles into an organic pocket, and the rest of the narrative flows natural as can be. The pace and rhythm become quick and smooth with some very intriguing set-ups for not only later in this book in particular, but for the series as a whole.
It especially works well when Jacqueline focuses on the heart of the novel, which is the ghosts and their purpose in this world — more importantly, Trevor, the spirit haunting Kate and Gavin’s apartment, who may or may not be causing Gavin’s sickly nature. The way Jacqueline slowly builds the relationship Kate and Gavin have with Trevor is done with quiet precision, giving us just enough at any one time to keep us intrigued while the other pieces of the plot are being put into their rightful places. In fact, whenever Jacqueline spends time with the ghosts, her narrative style rises to match the intensity and power of the spirits themselves. One of the best scenes in the book comes when Michael and Kate are talked into going with television ghost hunter, Luke Rainer (one of my favorite characters; with his arrogant charm and smarmy personality, Luke brings a fresh electricity to everything in the book), to track ghosts in a nearby cemetery, where they are quickly redirected to a local church where a murder-suicide took place at a wedding. The encounter with the ghost of Grace at the church is exquisitely written with just enough intense spookiness.
It’s from this point on that Jacqueline truly finds her voice and doesn’t look back. It’s also that moment when everything starts to click together, drafting out the picture of a fun ghost story with a little romance and heartache thrown in… though I can’t say I was head-over-heels in love by the final reveal of who Trevor really is and the reasons behind why he’s haunting them in the first place. It’s not that I had a problem with it (within the context of the story, it works quite well), I just felt the build-up was more than the payoff, making it all feel just a little too lackluster a reveal.
That aside, there’s much to like about Cemetery Tours, and now that the exposition and backstory are out of the way, the next two books in the series, Between Worlds and After Death, should be excellent editions to a supernatural library that’s just waiting to find out what happens to Michael, Kate and Luke after their first harrowing adventure together.
My Grade: A-
Jacqueline E. Smith lives in Dallas, Texas, has a Bachelor’s Degree in Art and Performance, and a Master’s in Humanities. She’s published 5 books (with the third book in her Boy Band series coming soon) under her own publishing label, Wind Trail Publishing.
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