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Review: Wide Open by Deborah Coates

>>Saturday, March 24, 2012

Title: Wide Open
Author: Deborah Coates
Format: Hardcover
Pages: 304
Genre: Fantasy, Paranormal, Mystery
Publication Date: March 13th, 2012
Publisher: Tor Books
Rating: 8.5

From Goodreads: When Sergeant Hallie Michaels comes back to South Dakota from Afghanistan on ten days' compassionate leave, her sister Dell's ghost is waiting at the airport to greet her.

The sheriff says that Dell's death was suicide, but Hallie doesn't believe it. Something happened or Dell's ghost wouldn't still be hanging around. Friends and family, mourning Dell's loss, think Hallie's letting her grief interfere with her judgment.

The one person who seems willing to listen is the deputy sheriff, Boyd Davies, who shows up everywhere and helps when he doesn't have to.

As Hallie asks more questions, she attracts new ghosts, women who disappeared without a trace. Soon, someone's trying to beat her up, burn down her father's ranch, and stop her investigation.

Hallie's going to need Boyd, her friends, and all the ghosts she can find to defeat an enemy who has an unimaginable ancient power at his command.

Why did I read this book? I've been wanting to read a good atmospheric paranormal fantasy novel for a while and this seemed like a good choice.

Source: Review copy provided by the publisher

My Review
This is Deborah Coates debut novel, set in South Dakota. It centers on Hallie Michaels, a sergeant in the army serving in Afganistan. She travels back home with ten days leave due to her sister’s death. Right from the get-go, Hallie is shown to be a tough, smart and courageous woman who is out to find the real truth about her sister’s death. Everyone is saying it was suicide but Hallie has reason to believe otherwise.

Oh, and she can see ghosts. After dying temporarily while in the field she woke up to find she could see the ghosts of the dead. She can’t communicate with them and can’t always tell what they want, but they are attracted to her and follow her around. One of them is her sister Dell, which probably stirs Hallie to be even more concerned about her death.

Slowly, weird things start to be revealed in her small county, about her sister Dell and her recent activities in a local weather research company. Hallie is guided by the ghosts and her own instincts, leading up to a big reveal.

I read Wide Open in one sitting, which is unusual for me since it takes quite a lot to pry me away from other things that I usually need to do in a day. I loved it and the more I think about the story, the more I think it’s one of my recent favorites. I was very impressed with Coates writing and how she handled the plot. The pacing was excellent; the mystery built up slowly, without those annoying scenes that are inserted to throw the main character off the trail in order to delay the conclusion. I think what helped this is that Hallie has only ten days before she has to go back to Afganistan to solve the mystery of her sister’s death and so the whole book takes place in that time period. Things move fast and while I did eventually guess the answer to the questions Hallie was looking for, there were also some twists concerning other characters that surprised me.

I also thought Coates nailed the setting. Since I tried, and failed, to read Graveminder by Melissa Marr, I’ve wanted to read a creepy, atmospheric contemporary fantasy. It takes place in the rural areas of South Dakota; there are lots of farms, cowboy hats and tractors. Since we see things from Hallie’s point of view, the ghosts are intermingled in her experience of her home and the weight of her sister’s death puts a cloud of darkness over everything. The creepy factor comes across very well.

Lastly I would have to say Hallie herself was an important part of my enjoyment of the story. She’s no no-nonsense, clever, determined, and desperate to find the truth about what happened to her sister. She doesn’t even back down in a bar fight against a few men. I also found her interactions with her old friends and her father to be entirely real; the different ways in which people grieve are deftly handled.

Rating: 8.5
Overall, I would definitely recommend Wide Open. It’s a great contemporary fantasy with a good mystery and a good take on the paranormal. It’s not your usual paranormal fare, with a sweet and unforced romance, and a subtle yet intriguing use of the supernatural. I hope Coates writes more fantasy as I would definitely like to see what she does next.

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