Sunday, February 7, 2010

Unhallowed Ground

Unhallowed Ground
By Heather Graham

Ever since I was a little girl, I’ve loved a good ghost story. As I got older, the addition of a love story made the good ghost story that much better. Give me a haunted house, a fearless heroine, and a hunky hero, and I’m a happy girl. Unhallowed Ground has them all, and I raced through it. The book opens with a prologue set during the Civil War, as two women walk through a cemetery until they reach the edge, where just outside the walls suicides and criminals are buried. The atmosphere is fantastic – gravestones, Spanish moss hanging from the trees, darkness – and let’s not forget that one of the women is the local witch. As the creepy scene draws to a close, we’re left with the suspicion that one of the women has met an untimely and gruesome end. Fast forward to present day, where historian Sarah McKinley has moved back to her hometown of St. Augustine, Florida and purchased an historic mansion that she has always loved. The place has been neglected and gotten very rundown, but Sarah has a crew hard at work on it and is starting to bring back its faded glory. All is going well right up until the workmen find all those skeletons in the library wall. Fortunately, they all seem to be over a century old, which means it’s more a matter for university historians than the local CSI unit. (Not to mention that the creepy details will only enhance the house’s reputation, no bad thing given the plummeting value of Florida real estate…) It turns out that the house was used as a funeral home during the Civil War, so the bodies in the wall may just be the result of an unscrupulous businessman reselling coffins and stashing the contents. Or the answer may be more sinister – several young girls went missing in the same time frame, and others died in mysterious “carriage accidents.” The home’s original owner was suspected, but with a war going on no one really wanted to start talking about a potential serial killer. Sarah believes all of this can remain in the past until private investigator Caleb Anderson shows up. The mysterious and handsome man is looking for a young woman who disappeared in the area a year ago, and believes his case is linked to that of another girl who disappeared more recently, and that both are somehow connected to Sarah’s house. Then some spooky and unusual things start happening to Sarah, including visits by a “ghost” who looks remarkably like Caleb, and she gets drawn into the investigation of crimes both new and old.

This is a fast paced, suspenseful book, with great elements of haunted house stories, historical fiction, and mystery. Graham creates a wonderfully creepy atmosphere, and though the present day secondary characters didn’t do a lot for me, the historical characters were both vivid and interesting. If you are looking for a quick, fun read check out Unhallowed Ground, and prepare for a pleasantly scary afternoon!

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