Personally, I prefer transparency when it comes to ghostly manifestations. Let everybody see what’s what, not just a privileged few!
However, there’s a long tradition of ghost-seers, individuals with the unique ability to see — even chat with — dead people. In some cases, those with mediumistic powers actually aid spirits in manifesting in the physical world (by lending ectoplasm or energy, etc.). During the heyday of Spiritualism, psychic mediums claimed to have that ability, and many of those without it were willing to pay to communicate with the dearly departed. These days, you see the same general idea played out in movies like The Sixth Sense and TV programs like The Ghost Whisperer.
But would anyone really want to be a ghost-seer? Would your life be your own, or would you have to dedicate yourself to helping ghosts move on? Or would you become a kind of Lieutenant Uhura of the U.S.S. Afterlife, shuttling sub-dimensional communications between the Great Beyond and a federation of mourners? Would you be labeled a loony or, far worse, a reality-TV sensation?
This is the dilemma Jacqueline E. Smith explores in Cemetery Tours. Michael Sinclair is a ghost-seer from birth, and he’s far from happy about it. He doesn’t quite know what to do with this, uhm, “gift.” So Smith throws two situations at him to help him decide.
The main plot involves the attractive — and literal — girl-next-door, Kate Avery, whose brother’s energy is being drained by . . . something. We learn pretty quickly that it’s an angry ghost, and I liked the idea that, when ghosts interact with the living, they become a bit psychic vampire-y. That’s a complication that makes ghosts more dangerous than they tend to be in fiction.
And Michael and Kate look to be our romantic leads. At first.
But then the dashing and cocky Luke Rainer shows up. He’s a, uhm, reality-TV sensation. He has one of those ghost-hunting shows that a lot of people seem to like. (Not a fan. Too much build-up, too little pay-off for my tastes.) At first, it looks as if Smith is going to pull a Hot-Chick-Ignores-Cute-Dork-in-Favor-of-Dashing-Jerk-But-Finally-Learns-that-Cute-Dork-Is-the-Man-for-Her formula we know from so many 1980s movies. At first. But Kate and Luke’s first date fizzles, and it turns out that Luke is actually more interested in Michael! Well. Luke only wants Micheal for his paranormal vision. What’s great here is the turn-around. Smith is quite good at setting up certain expectations and then surprising readers by heading somewhere else. This makes things feel much more true-to-life.
A second plot line develops when Michael, Kate, and Luke go ghost hunting. What about Kate’s energy-depleted brother? Hmm, yeah, that gets curiously neglected for a time, but we do get back to it before too long, and it grows into a very complicated, very interesting dilemma. It deals with the strangeness of the human brain, with memory, and with healing — all matters that Smith makes central to her novel from the very start. What I liked most about this novel is the situation surrounding the brother’s haunting, a scary thing that evolved from an effort to do the right thing. There’s something very human in it. (To say much more would be to spoil the drama.)
Once the first plot line begins to be resolved, that secondary ghost investigation comes rushing back! Here, the book inches toward becoming big Hollywood finale-ish, but Smith is still dealing with that theme of good intentions gone frighteningly wrong. And she’s still testing Michael, forcing him to decide what to do about his ghost-sight. It’s refreshing to read a ghost novel that has a thoughtful theme running through it and is very much concerned with exploring character. The ending itself is complicated, too. Not a tragic ending, mind you, but not a fairy tale ending, either. It’s a smart, honest ending.
And there’s a sequel. It’s titled Between Worlds.