Wide Open

Wide OpenBy Deborah Coates
Publisher: Tom Doherty Associates
Publication Date: March 13, 2012
Genre: Paranormal Suspense
Source: Publisher

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.


Hallie Michaels has been called home from Afghanistan by the news that her sister is dead. She’s stunned to find out people actually believe Dell could have committed suicide, even when it becomes apparent that her sister had been behaving oddly right before her death. Hallie thinks it has to do with the company her sister was working for which in turn seems responsible for the bizarre weather the town is experiencing.

There are several paranormal twists in the story, but the main one is that Hallie can see ghosts. After an incident in Afghanistan, not only can she see them but one in particular is attached to her – a friend and fellow soldier. When she arrives back home, her sister joins them and eventually, more women associated with the sinister company.

On her first day back home, Hallie meets deputy sheriff Boyd Davies, who came to town while she was gone. He’s a regular Andy Griffith, nice and helpful, neat as a pin – he just won’t tell her a thing about Dell’s case which infuriates her. Boyd keeps popping up to help her or save her from herself, most often the latter until eventually Hallie is sort of nice to him. Sort of.

Therein lay the general issue I had with the story. Hallie could have been a pretty good character to root for – I actually liked how reckless she was, how willing she was to deliver a punch to a jerk that was ready to punch her. But dang, she was also abrasive enough that I actually winced at some of the things she said to poor Boyd who had only ever been nice to her. She was painfully rude sometimes and if it had been delivered to someone who was giving her a hard time, I could have been fine with it, but most of the time it was directed at some schmuck who hadn’t done a thing.

As vivid as Hallie is, the rest of the characters remained a bit hazy. Boyd was at least physically clear – he’s described as bony, young-looking and a bit of a neat freak. He’s a nice guy, determined to save Hallie from the bad guys and maybe a little from herself. He has his own big secret that he hides from her and it was interesting – I wish it has been more clearly defined. The bad guys also suffered from a lack of focus but I think in this case it’s because the mystery was focused on the “thing” that was the secret rather than the “who” that was behind it for too long. The only nasty guy that stood out is one who liked to threaten Hallie and smack her around once in a while and that’s probably not a good thing.

On to what worked. I liked the way the author handled the ghost angle of the story. These weren’t pantomiming ghosts communicating with Hallie, they just were. She didn’t particularly want them there either, not even her sister. There were stories of missing girls that came into the story of Dell’s death and they made the story even creepier. What Boyd added to the story was unexpected – I’m not sure if it helped or not, but it was an interesting twist. I liked the South Dakota small town feel of the story, the setting was perfect and the author did a great job conveying the “where” of the story without going into an obvious rundown of detail.

My Summary: This story has a lot of promise – a truly interesting paranormal story that only needs a bit of fleshing out, a great setting that works well with this type of mystery With a little bit of tweaking. I thought the ending was great, leaving the story open-eneded: is there another story to tell?

My Rating: B-



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