Years after the fact, a true-crime writer revisits the scene of a crime to discern the truth of what he’d witnessed.
Colin Douglas is 15 when it happens. With three friends, he’s gone camping a few miles south of the city, near a once-lush plantation, a Mississippi River levee and a very scary cemetery. Typically hormonal, they’ve been bragging about their fictional successes with actual young women. When an argument breaks out, one of the boys leaves. Once he’s gone long enough to cause even 15-year-olds to become less self-involved, the others go looking for him. No luck. Instead, Colin encounters…a ghost? A restless spirit disgorged from an ancient grave? Or something just as horrible but of more recent vintage? It’s so dark, and Colin’s so frightened, that he can’t see or think straight. The following day everyone is shocked to learn that Gloria Santana, the lively, lovely high-school Spanish teacher, has been stabbed to death. His brush with the frightful something leaves Colin more baffled and traumatized than he can possibly understand. Forty-five years later, he returns to Baton Rouge—to research a new writing project, he tells himself, but actually to expel a nightmare.
Shuman (Past Dying, 2000, etc.) presents an absorbing, well-written story undermined by one of those too-little-too-late visits from a deus ex machina that will leave many a reader grumpy.