Ann Kinnear can’t converse with ghosts, but her ability to sense a lingering spirit, or “essence,” is enough for her to work as a consultant for police in a missing person case. But it’s a job for client Mavis Van Dyke that catches a killer’s attention. Mavis, who wants to live in a haunted house, hires Ann to walk through prospective homes. Ann is so disturbed by an angry spirit at a Philadelphia house that she won’t even go inside. When Detective Joe Booth hears of this, he asks Ann to return to the residence, hoping to validate his belief that the seller, Biden Firth, murdered his wife, Elizabeth. Biden learns about Ann, too, and he starts obsessively keeping an eye on her and her brother/business partner, Mike, to ensure that Ann doesn’t help the detective solve his case. Dalrymple’s novel features a protagonist who’s amiably reclusive—she’s none too happy that a History Channel special gets her recognized in public—but also relatable, especially considering her endearing relationship with Mike, who, even as a child, fully believed in her spirit sensing. Ann’s special talent is distinctive and remarkable; though people usually call her a psychic, she can’t directly communicate with spirits (a fact that is repeated a few too many times) and instead senses them via glowing lights, sounds or smells, e.g., the scent of a dead man’s pipe tobacco. Though Ann sees herself as a “freak,” she isn’t portrayed as such. The story touches on her affinity for Garrick, who relates to Ann by sharing a similar ability. While Mike and Ann’s separation from the ongoing murder case helps build suspense (Biden has the advantage since they don’t know what he looks like), the investigation gets a dramatic punch from Joe’s visits with Elizabeth’s grieving mother, Amelia, as well as updates on Biden’s daughter, 2-year-old Sophia, whom the father often neglects. The book closes with adequate resolution and is bolstered by an intense scene with at least one life in peril.
A frighteningly meticulous villain and a formidable protagonist will have readers breezing through the pages.