Is it a gift or a curse that Julie Hall has the ability to divine the whereabouts of dead bodies?
Twenty-five-year-old Hall (real name: Delma Arensault) lives an ordinary life. She resides with her dog, Wookie, in a trailer down the ways from her beloved widowed grandfather. She’s employed at a gas station. She has a boyfriend, an unfulfilled artist who works at the local casino. But she has an extraordinary gift. Readers have heard the expression so-and-so “knows where all the bodies are buried.” That’s Hall: “The first time I picked up dowsing rods I knew I was different. Gramps said that if you had the knack, they’d help you find water. But I always found bodies.” That’s the crackerjack opening to Roberts’ (Drop Dead Beauty, 2013, etc.) compact paranormal mystery in which Hall is recruited by FBI agent Garrett Pierce to help locate three missing girls who are presumed dead. Hall’s gift is the only miraculous thing in her life. She is haunted by the childhood abuse she received at the hands of her grandmother, which brings on “quicksand thoughts” that mire her in “the dark place.” When a childhood friend betrays her and her supernatural secret goes public, she not only becomes a target of the press (“Can you confirm that your supernatural black magic is what helped the FBI?”), but also of the killer, who is still at large. Readers who pat themselves on the back for being able to anticipate twists may find themselves one-upped here. Roberts imbues Hall with a likable pluck and grit. She has a deft, witty touch. Hall refers to a reporter who asks her if she is “a good witch or a bad witch” as “a particularly stupid woman with a death wish.” The harsher profanity seems gratuitous, and some of Roberts’ pop-culture references belie Hall’s young years (Dirty Harry, Pee-Wee Herman). But there is genuine suspense as the danger hits close to home, and Hall and Pierce make for an arresting team.
Readers of this taut mystery don’t need dowsing rods to detect series potential.