Exploring the dark history of America’s eugenics movement, Picoult (Perfect Match, 2002, etc.) sneaks in a ghost story in her eighth outing: a gratifying blend of gothic melodrama and social critique.
Ross Wakeman remains implausibly unscathed after every suicide attempt, preventing him from a desired reunion with his dead fiancée. Having quit his job filming for a television ghost hunter, he takes refuge at his sister Shelby’s in small-town Vermont, where, as luck would have it, his expertise as a ghost hunter is needed: Dying Spencer Pike has finally agreed to sell his house, but now that a developer is ready to build a strip mall, the local Abenaki tribe is claiming the land as a burial ground. The Abenaki protestors, including 102-year-old Az Thompson, have no evidence for their claim, but the developer hires Ross to see whether there really is anything to the strange goings-on in town: rose petals falling from the sky, cars driving only in reverse, robins’ eggs found under pillows, pennies minted in 1931 landing in everyone’s pockets. Ross meets Lia in his investigation, a strange young woman he begins to fall for until he realizes she’s none other than Cecilia Pike, Spencer’s young bride, murdered in 1931. Things shift temporarily to Lia’s story and the tragic account of American eugenics. A young Spencer Pike spearheaded the cleansing of his town, sterilizing the local “gypsies,” the Abenaki, unable to acknowledge how close his own pregnant wife (suicidal and a half-breed) is to those he’s trying to erase. In the present again, Shelby falls in love with the town cop, who is also newly interested in the old case; Shelby’s son Ethan, suffering from a rare genetic disease, begins to test the bounds of his mortality; Meredith, a genetic counselor, is frantic about her daughter’s seeing ghosts; Ross believes Meredith and Lia to be one and the same; and old Az Thompson seems to be holding the key to everything.
A balance of suspense and science makes for a memorable ghost tale.