One of the hallmarks of a good book is how badly I want to keep reading long after my established bedtime. Another is how many times I ask, “What the heck is going on here?” First time novelist Deborah Coates succeeded at both keeping me up at night and keeping me wondering in her chilling and compelling fantasy novel Wide Open.
Combining paranormal elements of ghosts and the undead with a bizarre weather control conspiracy and ancient magic and ritual, this creepy story gets off to a great start when Hallie Michaels comes home from Afghanistan to attend her sister’s funeral. Hallie doesn’t buy the locals’ explanations that her sister, Dell, took her own life, so a ten-day mourning leave becomes a quest for answers into a mystery that will take Hallie far beyond anything she has ever imagined. Oh, and did I say that Hallie sees ghosts? One of which is her sister, as well as other ghosts that haunt her every waking moment and actually help her solve the mystery of a series of bizarre disappearances that led to each of their deaths.
Also on board is a strangely perfect deputy sheriff named Boyd. He gives Hallie a headache until he reveals his own amazing secret connection to the disappearances, which seem to be connected to a powerful entrepreneur who claims he can control the weather.
The fun of this book lies in finding clues along with Hallie as she literally dissects a mystery that is both real and surreal. Nobody is more qualified than this hard-case soldier who refuses everyone’s help until she absolutely needs it. My only beef is that I wanted her to soften up a bit more and maybe even dabble in a bit more romance—but, true to her character, Hallie keeps the task at hand front and center and takes us along for a wild and supernatural ride, even as she and Boyd do connect on many levels.
Coates is a noted short fiction author, and this novel will no doubt help her cement a place in the fantasy fiction realm. This haunting story sticks in your head and uniquely combines elements of fact, fiction and magic into an intense yet enjoyable read, as uncanny as it is perfectly believable.