These Haunts Are Made For Walking by Rose Pressey (2014)
I have a complicated relationship with cozy mysteries. On the one hand, cozies typically provide a pleasant but not too intellectually demanding reading experience. On the other hand, they are too often littered with boring, plain vanilla characters and plots that are wholly sanitized of life’s hard, and sometimes ugly, realities. When I do find a cozy series I like, I inevitably abandon it after a few books because I get frustrated when the main character shows no growth or change as the series progresses. If you are new to this category or the term, cozies generally have a few things in common. The murder itself is not gory or graphically depicted, and they contain little to no violence. Cozy mysteries typically take place in a small-town setting where everyone knows everyone else. When a murder is discovered, the whole town is thrown out of balance. It is the job of the amateur sleuth to find the killer, bring him or her to justice, and return order and normalcy to the community. For the most part, cozies are “clean” reads. I tend to favor hardboiled or noir detective fiction, but cozies are mostly on the opposite side of the spectrum. Maybe that is why I feel so conflicted about this genre.
As I was searching for my next read, I wanted something different from my usual fare. What made me say yes to These Haunts Are Made For Walking by Rose Pressey was the combination of a murder mystery and ghost hunting (or so I thought). For whatever reason, I have been increasingly drawn toward books about ghost hunters and this one seemed to be exactly what I was looking for. Plus, it was free and free is an absolutely perfect fit for this reader’s book budget. Unfortunately, this book is a reminder that a free read is not always a good read.
The story follows Ripley Van Raden. She has just returned to her hometown of Devil’s Moon, Kentucky, to take the position of head librarian at the local library (a fellow book lover—I should love her, right?) after living in Los Angeles. When she discovered her fiancé cheating with her best friend (yes, I know, this is totally a cliché, and I am upset about it, too), she called off her engagement and decided to return home. Though she has sworn off men (of course), she spots a good-looking guy at the local tavern shortly after her return. Ripley learns he is Officer Brannon Landon (yes, I know, it is an unfortunate name for a character, and I am upset about it, too). In addition to working at the library, Ripley has a side hustle. She leads haunted tours of locations where ghost sightings have been reported. On her first day at the library, she encounters the ghost of the library’s first librarian—Annie Gibson—and that night, one of the members of a book club falls to her death. Somewhat unconventionally, Ripley is unusually averse to investigating the dead woman’s demise, and her attempts to find clues are half-hearted at best. Consequently, it takes much too long for the story to get going.
The story is told through Ripley’s first person point of view, and the narrative style is one of the book’s weaknesses. Pressey relies heavily upon telling (as opposed to showing), and the effect is a book that has too much narrative and not enough dialogue and interaction between the characters. The dialogue is also a problem. It is overly formal and proper. Yes, sometimes proper speech which avoids the use of contractions is a device writers use when they want to give the impression of an old-world character and the formal speech pattern says something about who they are. That is not the case here. These are 21st century people living in Kentucky. They use contractions when talking. The author needs to use them in dialogue.
Not to pile on, but still another flaw of the narrative is its structure. Casual readers have been trained to see multiple plots weaving through a story but easily recognize the main plot. This recognition of multiple plots is intuitive, and if done even reasonably well by the writer, the casual reader never gives narrative structure a second thought. In These Haunts Are Made For Walking, the main plot and the subplot are confused, which means as a reader, I am confused. The second plot in the book revolves around a ghost Ripley sees in the cemetery during several of her haunted tours. She does not know who the ghost is, or why he is trying to communicate with her. Ripley spends a lot of time trying to discover his identity and what he wants. Indeed, she often seems more enthusiastic about solving that mystery than the mystery of the dead woman in the library. Which, then, is supposed to be the main plot? The murder mystery? Or the mystery of the ghost in the graveyard? Both get resolved in the end, but only because someone else gives Ripley the answers.
The supporting cast of characters surrounding Ripley is weak. All of the characters in the novel are flat characters. Ripley’s best friend, Tammy White, fails to evolve into the strong sidekick character every protagonist needs. Brannon Landon is clearly the love interest, but he is two-dimensional. Nothing about him is interesting or intriguing, and I had zero investment in them as a potential couple. The story also lacks a strong antagonist. It seems the police chief is supposed to fill this role. And yet he is hardly an adversary and really only appears twice in the book. I mean, I cannot even remember his name. That is how insignificant he is. Finally, there is Leslie Knight, the library assistant with whom Ripley butts heads throughout the story. Though her behavior is antagonistic, she is nowhere close to being what a reader expects from a true antagonist. In short, it is hard to care about the supporting characters or the story itself. Ripley is not a compelling character, and there was not anything about her that made me want to continue to follow her through more books in this series.
Honestly, I put this book down a couple of times. Take a pass on These Haunts Are Made For Walking. Maybe the books in the series get better. I do not know, but my reading time and book budget dollars are too precious for me to give the benefit of the doubt.
Have you read These Haunts Are Made For Walking? What did you think?