REVIEW: House of Whispers by Margaret Lucke
Dear Ms. Lucke,
Nothing beats a good old-fashioned ghost story. When I was a child, I loved tales of haunted houses and would soak them up every Halloween when they’d get touted out. But while I enjoyed ghost stories then, I’ve discovered that I’m far pickier about haunted house novels as an adult.
After putting her life on hold to put her husband through law school, only to discover he had an affair with a younger classmate, Claire Scanlan serves him divorce papers and moves cross-country to San Francisco to start over. There, she lands a position at a prestigious real estate firm and soon acquires her first property to sell.
Unfortunately, Claire has two problems. The firm has also hired another rookie agent who’s younger, more aggressive, and not above using her sex appeal to get her way. And if none of those things work, she resorts to deliberate sabotage. Secondly, the property she needs to sell was the site of a vicious multiple murder where the son of the previous owner killed his entire family before taking his own life. Two real estate companies previously tried to sell the mansion with no success. After all, no one wants to live in a house that witnessed a bloodbath.
But Claire also has a secret. For as long as she can remember, she’s had dreams that hold portents of things to come in the future and visions of things that happened in the past. When she visits the house for the first time, she discovers something inside wants to communicate with her. And the message is worrisome: the son accused of committing the murders might actually be innocent.
This book has many elements that should have worked for me. It has a newly single woman ready to start over. It has a house no one wants to buy that is haunted by two ghosts — one benign and one not. It has a love interest in the shape of Ben Grant, who not only is the brother of the previous owner but was in love with his brother’s wife. Love interest and alternate murder suspect in one package — that’s a source of conflict for Claire. The only problem is, while the elements are there, they never really came to life for me.
I’ll be the first to admit that none of these story elements are original or fresh. But when presented together in a well-done story, I think they can still be entertaining. I just can’t help but feel that this book is simply going through the motions. It’s almost as if it was following the plot points and twists according to a preset plan. There was nothing to throw me out of the book, but there was nothing surprising or delightful either.
In addition, Claire’s ambitious co-worker, Avery, is cast in the role of a two-dimensional rival. We’re obviously meant to sympathize with Claire, and only Claire, so everything Avery does is cookie cutter manipulative and nasty. I prefer more nuance in that character type these days and she was simply too black and white for me.
What bothered me most, however, was Claire’s TSTL decision towards the end. When you receive a phone call telling you to come to the house you’re trying to sell because something strange is going on and can you please check it out, what should be your first reaction? I think it’s fair to say most people would call the police. But if the person you’re talking to says not to call the police because they wouldn’t arrive in time, what would you think? More importantly, what would you decide to do? I had a very hard time accepting Claire’s responses to these scenarios as believable, let alone logical.
While we are occasionally treated to the ghosts’ perspectives and their hauntings in action, they didn’t play as much of a role as I’d have liked. When they were present in the story, their sole purpose seemed to be only that of vehicles used to help Claire solve the murder mystery. I found this disappointing. In the end, maybe I simply expected something different from this book. C
This book can be purchased in mass market. No ebook format.
Thanks for the review! I’ve been thinking about this one. Love interest/alternate murder suspect has been one of my favorite plotlines ever since that movie Sea of Love.
One thing I’ve been thinking is that ghosts haunting a house is probably one of the most difficult paranormal beings to work with. It’s interesting that here, the love interest isn’t the paranormal being. I think that’s sort of rare.
Now that I think about it, you’re right. These days, it’s rare to find a love interest who isn’t a paranormal being. It’s either the love interest is the paranormal being or both the protagonist and the love interest are. Interesting.
I attended the West Coast Crime convention in Denver last year and bought the book “House of Whispers”. I read it, loved it and have looked for more books written by you. So far, I haven’t had any luck.
Are you going to continue writing in this genre? I would like to read more.
I’m not finished the book yet, but my friend saw my name on the book and bought it for me. We found it amusing that my name (Claire Scanlan) is in this book, and her last name McMillian is too.