Beach Reads

By the Book: Novels with Ghosts of Many Kinds

The back-jacket bio on Long Island fiction writer Michael Philip Cash notes his interest in horror and the paranormal. Both are part of the plot of his latest novel The Flip (Red Feather Publishing). He also taps into a popular activity: flipping houses for profit.

Little do Brad and Julie Evans realize that Hemmings House, a 1859 Victorian mansion on Bedlam Street in Cold Spring Harbor, rattles around with restless spirits from Civil War days.

The book goes back and forth between contemporary times and 1862, and though the author says that creating this fictional tale was fun, he notes at the end that one of the story’s strands—slaves smuggled to Canada by way of an Underground Railroad safe house off the Jericho Turnpike—is factual. It’s unfortunate that this subject was not brought front and center, especially as Cash’s narrative shows that his Northern family in 1862 was split between helping slaves escape and selling out to bounty hunters. Instead, the author has his characters from the past interact with Brad and Julie by way of a haunting set in motion by a flirtatious belle from the past who has the hots for Brad and would destroy Julie in order to possess him.

Though contemporary fans of vampire romance may well be engaged, the story too frequently falls victim to irrelevant detail and cliché: “She watched the fabric of Brad’s shirt tighten against the muscles of his taut shoulders. He brushed back his bothersome hair that fell against his damp face, the weak sunlight glinting off the sweat of his burnished forearms.” Haunted houses occasioned by “haunted hearts seeking love?” Nice idea, but given the amount of pornography and violence on cable, The Flip is not likely to prove competitive.

***

What a different kind of haunting informs the timely and intriguing murder mystery, River of Glass, by award-winning thriller writer Jaden Terrell (The Permanent Press). The third in her Jared McKean murder mystery series, River of Glass is an exciting tale that will likely attract admirers of New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof who often writes about sex trafficking and the abuse of young Asian women. Though the problem is international, Terrell, whose creds include being Executive Director for Killer Nashville, one of the country’s leading mystery groups, focuses her passionate, hard-boiled, not-without-humor nail-biting adventure in Tennessee, where young Asian women tricked into big-business forced prostitution are subject to sadistic overlords who delight in slow-death
torture.

Nicely complicating her narrative with unusual but believable characters, Terrell gives P.I. McKean a Vietnamese half-sister, Khanh, who turns up on his doorstep one day and appeals to his sense of responsibility. It seems that McKean’s father, long dead, had a second family in Vietnam, where he served two tours of duty, and though his heart was in the right place, he was unable to get them out. His daughter, McKean’s half sister, who suffered childhood disfigurement from protecting her younger sister from an exploding mine, is a remarkably courageous and persistent woman. She has come to the states to find her daughter, Tuyet, a young, wild and naïve beauty, who ran off with a man who had placed an ad for young women seeking to pursue a career in America. Significantly, the book opens with an italicized passage describing the horror of Tuyet’s imprisonment at the hands of the sex-trafficking ringleaders.

The brother-sister detective team of McKean and Khanh may seem odd, but it works. Khanh, sardonic, savvy, tenacious, speaking abbreviated English, will not let McKean off the hook, or out of her sight, and he, reluctant to have her along, grudgingly but admiringly accepts her assistance and comes to appreciate the urgent necessity of the cause. Their quest leads them to tattooed sickos and high-tech pimp operatives who run a powerful sexploitation business in this country and abroad. Along the way, Terrell gives McKean a heartwarming, believable backstory and secondary characters who play distinct roles that advance the narrative in this fast-paced tale.

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