Review of “Restless Spirits” by Tracy Neis

from goodreads

Disclaimer: The author of the book reviewed below is a personal friend. I beta read the manuscript for her and thoroughly enjoyed it. She gave me a copy of the finished book (thanks!). She did not ask for a review. You’re getting one anyway, Tracy.

Plot:

Jim McCudden, former keyboardist for the (fictional) British invasion band the Pilots, is driving through a rainstorm in northern Ohio on his way to Cleveland to an interview at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Tired, he begins nodding off on the Interstate. He decided to turn off the Interstate and look for a little caffeine.

At a place that’s closing, he gets directions to a place called the Black Bull, but at a fork in the road, he becomes uncertain which way to go. He chooses. In the dark, he sees a pair of shining yellow eyes. Not wanting to hit the animal, he slams on the brakes, sending the car into a skid that ends with a sound of metal against granite. Turning the ignition key produces only a “check engine” light.

He’s near a mailbox and a small, dark cottage. He injures his foot on his way to the cottage. No one answers, but he enters. He finds a bed but no working phone and falls asleep.

In a dream—it is a dream, right?—he hears pounding at the window. A woman asks to be let in. “It’s Cathy. I’ve come home.”

Jim tells her the front door is unlocked. She doesn’t seem to notice him. He stumbles out of bed and opens the window. There’s no one there. Jim feels someone grab his wrist, and a shock of cold goes through him.

At the same time, Jim’s ex-wife, Philippa, is writing their children’s piano teacher a post-dated check for their lessons because, as she claims, their father is off gallivanting in the United States and hasn’t paid his child support yet. Maggie Greyson swallows her pride and irritation but accepts the check.

Maggie, unmarried and approaching her fortieth birthday, has a fondness for wine. She is irritated with a visitor from the nineteenth century who likes to lecture her.

Thoughts:

First and foremost, this book is fun. There are many in-jokes for Brontë fans, but one doesn’t have to be a devotee to get the humor. The whole situation of Maggie being nagged by Agnes, a mostly-invisible ghost who likes to hang out in the pantry, offering advice while really telling the story of her life, is just cute. While Agnes waxes poetic, Maggie shuts the door and walks off to get a glass of wine.

Cliff, the Heathcliff equivalent, is wound a bit tightly. He finds the injured Jim on the cottage floor after the latter’s encounter with Cathy’s ghost. A skilled traditional healer, he notes the injury to Jim’s foot but refuses to call an ambulance because he doesn’t “believe in doctors.” And what’s Jim gonna do about it? He gives Jim’s foot a look and says, “Damn, your foot looks hideous. Turning green. Want me to amputate it now and get it over with?”

The main characters are complex and show depth. Even Cliff, who can be violent, demonstrates learning and skill. Without minimizing his violence, author Neis makes him human. The same thing applies to the ghost of Cathy. She is capricious and selfish, but there are also other sides to her. Jim (along with the reader) begins to feel sympathy for them. He even sees a bit of his ex-wife in her.

The same depth is present with Maggie. At first, she comes across as a doormat, letting Philippa run roughshod over her, mourning being single and about to turn forty. She’s haunted by a ghost who doesn’t frighten her, but who—or all things—nags her. Yet she’s no wilting wallflower. She’s educated and has had a long career. Her love of music is deep and extends to many genres—maybe even the British invasion…? Eventually, she stands up for herself—like a lady. And then there’s music.

I enjoyed this fun read.


Title: Restless Spirits: An Alternate Take on Wuthering Heights and Agnes Grey
Book Two in Rock-and-Roll Brontë Series

Author: Tracy Neis
First published: 2020

Published by 9siduri

I have written book and movie reviews for the late and lamented sites Epinions and Examiner. I have book of reviews of speculative fiction from before 1900, and short works in publications such Mobius, Protea Poetry Journal, and, most recently, Wisconsin Review and Drunken Pen Writing. I'm busily working away on a book of reviews pulp science fiction stories from the 1930s-1960s. It's a lot of fun. I am the author of the short story "Always Coming Home," a chapbook of poetry titled "Sotto Voce," and a collection of reviews of pre-1900 speculative fiction, "By Firelight."

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