Book Reviews

Review: Haunted (2020) by Rhymer Novak

The living and the dead can suddenly see one another and a donut-slinging, coffee-pouring necromancer is the city’s only hope at finding balance.

MidCity always had its fair share of ghosts, though only Necromancers like Ari Sanchez could see them. Until the night of the Switch – when the dead were exposed to the living…and all hell broke loose.

One year later, and Ari spends her days slinging doughnuts at the Dough Hole Diner. Anything to avoid a run-in with the unscrupulous Spooked – the agency that destroyed her life, stole her fiancé and exorcised half the ghosts in MidCity. She just wants to move on, but it’s tricky when there’s ghosts in the diner dumpster and possessed house cats to deal with.

When Ari receives a cryptic warning from the Afterlife, she has no choice but to uncover the truth. Angry poltergeists, run-ins with the ex, and a surprise visit from the Hound of Limbo.

The well developed characters in Haunted makes it all the more enjoyable. Every voice has a face, no matter how major or minor they are to the story. The setting of a rundown diner in a failing city strips readers of expectations of a dark and moody ghost story when served with a pink, sprinkled pastry of humor and romance. Ari is tough but likable. You’ll root for her the entire story and share in her aches when trouble relentlessly arises for her. She isn’t extraordinary; she’s a twenty-something waitress trying to pick up the pieces of a life she thought was all figured out. She’s experienced physical loss and heartbreak. Her arc and her unwitting determination is what makes you finish this story.

The ghosts Novak created have modpodged characteristics from various pop culture sources. They ooze ectoplasm and shine green. Your hand will go right through them but they can effect your corporeal form. Most importantly, each one is full of life (heh heh) and personality. It’s that essence of humanity and the threat to it that paints them as the true victims in Haunted. The foe of the book is a frightening concept, something one hopes will never come to fruition in this reality. The blending of societal and religious ideations of death makes this book accessible to many readers. There’s a lack of fillers in Novak’s voice. It’s understated at the right moments, as if to let the words speak with ample air surrounding them. You can feel the pain in the goodbyes and the snarkiness in the jokes. There’s a clearly demonstrated grasp on pacing.

Midway through, I thought the story was going in a direction that I feared. Luckily, it steered back onto the path and as a reader, I appreciated that taste of doubt and unpredictability. Frankly, it’s hard to pull off a ghost story with 50% or higher originality. That’s not a knock; it’s just the name of the spooky game. However, if you can create a singular world and supplement it with new ideas in a ghost story, that’ll make up for originality points. The Victorian ghost story is great but we’ve seen it for ages. Haunted doesn’t have those elements of evil spectators or hidden murders. There’s no bloodied lace or legends to be wary of. It’s very much a modern world that has wonderfully bright intruders that haven’t lost their identities. They aren’t the threat– the living are. Limbo is an integral part of the book and from it stemmed workable plot devices and that “new” angle.

This is a highly effective ghost story that doesn’t rely on old houses or family curses. Its monsters hide in plain sight and the real fear comes from those who still breathe. Recommended for horror fans and readers who like it spooky and slightly scary.

Haunted is now available on Kindle and in paperback format. You can purchase it HERE.

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