Note: This review originally appeared in The Season E-Zine's January mystery section.
What a Ghoul Wants by Victoria Laurie
Obsidian (352 pages)
December 24, 2012
Rating: 4.5/5 (Amazing) (The Season's rating scale now runs from 1 to 5.)
For fans of: Juliet Blackwell
Ghost hunters M.J. Holliday and Heath Whitefeather have traveled all over the world filming their reality television show, Ghoul Getters. They’ve visited some incredibly creepy locations and faced down some extraordinarily powerful spirits, but none of their experiences has sufficiently prepared them for their current project: a shoot at Kidwella Castle in northern Wales.
Kidwella is haunted by a number of spooks, but perhaps the most legendary is the one known as the Grim Widow. The Grim Widow is a ghost so dangerous she’s rumored to have claimed nearly a dozen lives in the past forty years – and it seems she has no intention of retiring anytime soon, as a body is found floating in the moat soon after the crew arrives. Their very first encounter with the phantom proves to M.J. and Heath that the Grim Widow's not only real, but is even more malevolent than they were led to believe. But is she actually responsible for all of Kidwella’s corpses – or is a flesh-and-blood killer using her for cover?
What a Ghoul Wants is the seventh of Victoria Laurie's fabulously entertaining Ghost Hunter Mysteries. Laurie's among my very favorite authors and this is my favorite of her two series, so I'm happy to report that What a Ghoul Wants doesn't disappoint. I've always been a sucker for a good ghost story, and What a Ghoul Wants is certainly that. The woman knows how to bring the creepy; the spectral encounters she writes are the stuff of nightmares – what you desperately hope for when you tune in to an actual ghost-hunting reality show, but unfortunately never get. She has a genuine talent for creating unique spirits with compelling origin stories and then using those creations to scare the crap out of her characters and her readers, alike.
That said, What a Ghoul Wants isn’t all thrills and chills; it’s as much a cleverly plotted mystery as it is a ghost story, and there’s plenty of humor and goofy charm to be found here, as well. The setup is marvelous, the pace is quick, and the stakes are high; Laurie wastes no time plunging you straight into the center of the action and doesn't pause to let you catch your breath until she’s got you good and hooked. This is the kind of book you consider calling in sick just to read, and it will pain you to put it down in between sittings.
The characters are fantastic to a one. I adore M.J. as a heroine; she’s strong, smart, loyal, brave, and incredibly resourceful. She’s also doggedly determined without being reckless, and that’s a rare trait amongst traditional mystery heroines. For his part, Heath is both a perfect partner and a perfect love interest (and a darned intriguing character in his own right), and the developing relationship between he and M.J. just serves to make the two of them even more likable. Best friend, technical advisor, and all-around-scaredy-cat Gilley is, as usual, completely over the top, but he's great comic relief. And bit player Inspector Lumley very nearly steals the show. He flies in the face of everything you've come to expect from a traditional mystery cop, and his presence adds a goodly amount of heart to the tale, as well.
The upshot? Buy this book. Buy it now. Who needs Dickens and his lame assorted Christmas ghosts when you've got Victoria Laurie and her merry band of ghostbusters?