review: house of whispers

House of Whispers by J.L. Bryan (2015)

House of Whispers is the fifth book in the Ellie Jordan, Ghost Trapper series by J.L. Bryan. While I wouldn’t say these books can be read as standalone novels, I won’t be revealing any major spoilers in this review that would ruin your enjoyment of the preceding books in this series. If you like books featuring a female protagonist and/or books featuring ghost hunters, you will enjoy this series. To be candid, I inhaled the first four books, and probably would have continued reading them one after another if I had liked the fourth book, Terminal, more than I did. If you’re new to the series, begin with book one, Ellie Jordan, Ghost Trapper. If you stopped somewhere along the way and haven’t gotten to House of Whispers yet, let me just say that in my opinion, this is the best book of the series so far. Bryan ramped up the scary factor and the danger factor in this one and kept me engaged in the story from beginning to end.

Meet the protagonist: Ellie Jordan. Ellie is a private detective who specializes in ghosts and hauntings. Her clients hire her to investigate the ghostly activity in their homes or businesses and then take the necessary steps to stop the hauntings. Ellie works for Calvin Eckhart, the owner of Eckhart Investigations and her mentor, but due to an accident during an investigation, Calvin no longer works in the field. Ellie is focused on her work, fiercely independent, competent and capable. She’s very much a loner, which is a quality readers of detective fiction will recognize right away. She has a soft spot for children and her commitment deepens each time she comes across a child in danger from the paranormal activity in his or her own home (she reminds me of Leroy Jethro Gibbs in this way). Ellie doesn’t let people get close to her, which is one of the things complicating her current relationship with Michael, the paramedic. Sometimes I find myself frustrated with Ellie because she is often portrayed as being cold, detached, and single-minded; however, whenever I find myself feeling this way, I have to stop, confront my own biases, and wonder if I would feel the same if Ellie were a male protagonist. Yes, I want Ellie to be warmer, less remote and standoffish, and yet I’ll keep accepting her as she is and hope her character continues to develop as the series goes on. Bottom line—Ellie is a compelling character that I want to keep following through this book and the ones that come next.

The books are set in Savannah, Georgia, and House of Whispers brings Ellie and her intrepid assistant, Stacey Ray Tolbert, to the Lathrop Grand Hotel. The client is Madeline Holt, the new manager of the hotel. In the three weeks Madeline has been in charge, she has restarted renovations to the fourth floor of the hotel, a space that has remained closed to guests and visitors for decades. Madeline decides to hire Ellie when a member of one of the construction crews falls to his death from a ladder and his co-workers claim he was pushed by a ghost. Ellie agrees to take the case, and she and Stacey are given a room on the third floor to stay in during the course of their investigation. Ellie is somewhat excited about the prospect of investigating the hotel. It has been described as one of the most haunted locations in the city, and for the most part, ghost hunters have been allowed to explore the first three floors but haven’t ever been granted access to the fourth floor. What Ellie eventually discovers is a formidable ghost who refuses to go gently into the light.

Like all of the other books in this series, House of Whispers is told from Ellie’s first-person point of view. The supporting cast of characters that Bryan has developed pop in and out of the story. With each new book in the series, Stacey is afforded a greater presence in the story, and the friendship between Ellie and Stacey continues to grow. Grant Patterson, Ellie’s contact at the local historical association, also makes a return appearance, helping Ellie with the research phase of her investigation and giving her the historical background of the hotel, its original owners, and the most infamous ghost in residence—Abigail Bowen. Calvin also appears in the story, offering pivotal information and advice when Ellie needs it as well as continuing to add tension to Ellie’s professional life (I won’t spoil the reason for that here). Jacob, a medium who is dating Stacey, and Michael, the paramedic who is dating Ellie, also show up as the story moves forward. So, if you’ve read the books before this one, rest assured that all your favorite characters make a return visit. If you’re new to the series, here’s my honest two cents about the supporting cast—they play their roles in the story, but they are not fully developed. This series reminds me a lot of a procedural television show in that they all start out mostly the same way: Ellie meets the client, Ellie proceeds to start her investigation, Ellie does research on the location of the haunting, Ellie battles the ghost, and Ellie traps the ghosts or helps them move on. For some readers, this will feel formulaic, and that’s not a charge I can dispute. If you’re new to the series, just know going in that on a character level, it’s more CSI than NCIS in regard to the depth to which you really get to know the characters and what makes them tick. In all honestly, it’s this aspect of the books that always keeps me from giving a five-star rating.

While the supporting cast of characters doesn’t offer a lot of depth, the antagonists of this book in particular are strong characters and more than just flat pieces of cardboard used as devices to push the story along. Abigail Bowen is intriguing as the primary suspect in the construction worker’s death, but as Ellie learns more about the original and subsequent owners of the house, it becomes increasing clear that Abigail’s ghost isn’t the only suspect to consider. I think one of Bryan’s strengths is his ability to offer antagonists that are different from each other and in many ways seem more human and driven by emotion than Ellie and the supporting cast display themselves. The antagonists of House of Whispers are definitely what made this book the best one in the series for me and one of the reasons why I’d recommend it to anyone who likes reading about ghost hauntings.

House of Whispers is worth the price of admission. While I found an audiobook version of this book available from my local library, a physical or digital edition of the book isn’t available. At the time of this writing, the books are also not in the Kindle Unlimited library. I’m okay with that because when I finished reading the book, I felt like I got good value for my book budget dollars. The Ellie Jordan, Ghost Trapper books don’t keep me up at night (and that’s a good thing) but they do keep me entertained and engaged in the reading experience. I recommend giving this series a try if you haven’t already, and I also recommend it as a series to keep reading. The plotting and suspense have continued to improve with each new book in the series. Bryan continues to meet my expectations and at the end of the day, how can I ask for anything more?

Have you read House of Whispers or any of the other books in the Ellie Jordan, Ghost Trapper series? What are your thoughts?

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