In Hurtado’s unnerving debut horror novel, a recent college graduate, hoping to make some cash as a paranormal consultant, encounters bizarre and potentially dangerous clients.
Months after earning a communications degree from the University of Texas at San Antonio, Erasmo Cruz remains unemployed. He and his grandmother are desperate for money, so Erasmo advertises himself on Craigslist as an expert in paranormal phenomena. His experience, as it were, is an incident tied to a local San Antonio phenomenon, called the “Ghost Tracks.” According to the legend, the spirits of the young victims of a 1930s school bus accident will push endangered cars away from a particular set of railroad tracks. Back in college, Erasmo was nearly hit by a car in the same spot; the driver of that car swore that the ghost children saved Erasmo, and the media picked the story up. Although Erasmo has doubts about the legend, he now takes on his first prospective client: Nora Montalvo, who believes that her 10-year-old son, Sonny, is possessed by something evil. Though initially skeptical, Erasmo flees Nora’s house after viewing horrific video evidence of Sonny’s possession. Other clients are no simpler: A man named Billy Doggett claims that he has precognitive visions, and another named Leander Castillo is sure he’s being trailed by a ghost—specifically, the spirit of a woman whom the cops think he murdered. Erasmo becomes determined to help all three, only to wind up in increasingly precarious predicaments. Hurtado steeps his novel’s plot and characters in ambiguity, which results in a riveting story. Readers are never certain about whether Nora and the others are delusional, bluffing, or truly dealing with paranormal events. Leander, for example, could very well be a killer, but there’s an equal chance that he’s a good guy who’s wrongfully accused. The protagonist himself essentially sets out to con people, but he becomes more sympathetic when a past tragedy involving his parents is revealed. The novel’s violent latter half packs the meanest punch, unleashing a series of surprising twists and highlighting “the suffocating nature of…loneliness.”
A downbeat but indelible story that slowly sinks its teeth in and doesn’t let go.