Author: Deborah Coates
Publisher: Tor Books
Publication date: March 2012
Paperback: 304 pages
When Sergeant Hallie Michaels comes back to South Dakota from Afghanistan on ten days’ compassionate leave, her sister Dell’s ghost is waiting at the airport to greet her.
The sheriff says that Dell’s death was suicide, but Hallie doesn’t believe it. Something happened or Dell’s ghost wouldn’t still be hanging around. Friends and family, mourning Dell’s loss, think Hallie’s letting her grief interfere with her judgment.
The one person who seems willing to listen is the deputy sheriff, Boyd Davies, who shows up everywhere and helps when he doesn’t have to.
As Hallie asks more questions, she attracts new ghosts, women who disappeared without a trace. Soon, someone’s trying to beat her up, burn down her father’s ranch, and stop her investigation.
Hallie’s going to need Boyd, her friends, and all the ghosts she can find to defeat an enemy who has an unimaginable ancient power at his command.
Stand alone or series: First in a new series
How did I get this book: Bought
Format (e- or p-): print
Why did I read this book: I didn’t have much interest in reading this until the amazing reviews started show up (Booklist, Tor.com) and then the book appeared as Locus Recommended book and received a Bram Stoker Award nomination. I had to read it then.
Sergeant Hallie Michaels comes back to Rapid City, a rural backwater in South Dakota from Afghanistan on ten day’s compassionate leave to attend her sister’s funeral. Dell’s death has been ruled suicide but Hallie is adamant that something else is at play here because her sister’s ghost – a silent, cold presence – still lingers.
Then when she starts asking questions, the responses are not only cryptic but also a bit threatening. Old boyfriends, close friends, her father, are all telling her that there is nothing amiss but Hallie knows better because as she digs deeper, more ghosts appear and they also appear to be linked somehow to Dell’s death.
Time is ticking: Hallie has only ten days to solve this mystery and her only ally seems to be deputy sheriff Boyd Davies, who shows up unexpectedly everywhere she goes. But maybe he has a secret of his own.
Wide Open is Deborah Coates’ debut novel, an atmospheric, contemporary Fantasy in a rural setting. Reading it proved to be an exercise in containing my frustration with its plot and setting at the same time that I admired the lengths of the characterisation of its main character.
With regards to story and setting, I can’t help but to feel that I have read this story a thousand times: is there something about small rural towns that lends itself to ghost stories? Rapid City is a rural backwater where everybody knows each other and where the communion with nature leads to cults that do blood sacrifices and where ghosts linger waiting for closure…and I am pretty sure I just described 99% of Horror/Fantasy stories that take place in similar settings.
There was just this overwhelming sense of familiarity with the plot and the way that it intrinsically relates to the rural setting, which informed my reading of Wide Open. I was also increasingly frustrated with the way that the mystery unfolds and how Hallie addresses this “investigation” by way of half-formed conversations. Most of the conversations had in the book are laconic, terse and people often don’t complete sentences. Although the narrative asks us to believe that this is because of especially taciturn characters, the fact remains that often characters and conversations like these, when used in the context of mystery writing, serve only as a contrived way of extending the tension. It is hard to buy into an investigation when a simple direct conversation could solve most of it. But that basically summarises my impatience with most novels that involve mysteries.
On the bright side, the writing of the main character Hallie is brilliant. Hallie is strong-willed, and extremely capable at the same time that she can jump to conclusions, act without thinking and judge people hastily. She is not perfect and therefore more relatable because of her imperfections. I loved how her life in the army informs most of the reactions in the real world including impatience with people reacting slowly to situations and her confidence in her own ability to take care of herself and I thought that to be realistic. It is also interesting in the way that it colours her relationships. I especially loved her budding, slowly developed romantic relationship with Boyd and the way that it included a directly expressed need for boundaries and respect for her ability to do things on her own, take care of herself and make decisions. His respect for her often clashed with what he had to do as a deputy sheriff in the context of an ongoing investigation but it was never about trying to save her or protect her because he thought she wasn’t skilful enough to do it.
That said, there is something I’d like to bring up. Hallie’s best friend in the army died as a direct result of her decisions and Hallie herself DIED in Afghanistan. She was brought back by medics after several minutes and that’s the explanation for how she can now see ghosts. It makes me uneasy that the result of such horrible experiences is a supernatural power and that there is no real suggestion that Hallie could be suffering of PTSD. I am not sure how to conciliate this paranormal element as result to injuries when it comes without any indication of potential mental health consequences.
Although one could definitely argue that her some of her actions, her tendency to act-first-think-later and to get into fights, and her sometimes casual nonchalance about the ghosts could be interpreted as a direct result of her trauma – but how exactly much of those characteristics are Hallie-as-a-character and have always been is never made clear to me.
In fairness, the novel’s action takes place over a really short period of time and it is possible that this will be further developed and explored in the sequel Deep Down.
Ultimately, despite my frustrations, I actually did enjoy the novel and recommend it, with reservations.
Notable Quotes/ Parts: From chapter 1:
When Sergeant Hallie Michaels arrived in Rapid City, South Dakota, she’d been traveling for twenty-four hours straight. She sat on the plane as it taxied to the gate and tried not to jump out of her skin, so ready to be up, to be moving, to put her head down and go. And Lord help anyone who got in her way.
She hadn’t been able to reach her father or anyone else by phone since she’d gotten the news, just contact with her commanding officer—We’re sorry, your sister’s dead. Here’s ten days’ compassionate leave. Go home.
Three sharp bongs, and the seat belt light went out. The plane filled with the sound of seat belts snapping, people moving, overhead doors opening up. The woman in the seat next to Hallie’s was still fumbling with her buckle when Hallie stepped past her into the aisle. She felt raw and sharp edged as she walked off the plane and up the Jetway, like rusty barbed wire, like she would snap if someone twisted too hard.
Halfway down the long wide concourse, ready—she was—for South Dakota, for her sister’s funeral for—
Goddamnit. Eddie Serrano’s ghost floated directly in front of her, right in the middle of the concourse. She swiped a hand across her eyes, hoped it was an artifact of no sleep and too much coffee, though she knew that it wasn’t.
He looked like he’d just stepped out of parade formation—crisp fatigues, pants neatly tucked into his boots, cap stiff and creased and set on his head just exactly perfect. Better than he’d ever looked when he was alive—except for being gray and misty and invisible to everyone but her.
She thought she’d left him in Afghanistan.
Rating: 6 – Good, recommended with reservations
Reading Next: A Corner of White by Jaclyn Moriarty
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