June 2006

Colleen Mondor

fiction

The Ghost Orchid by Carol Goodman

Carol Goodman has a reputation for crafting literary mysteries, one of those categories that sound very appealing, though no one ever seems to know just exactly what it means. It’s easy to see how her latest novel, The Ghost Orchid, could be said to fall into that genre -- with all of the modern day action taking place at a writer’s colony the literary opportunities are in abundance. But it is the mystery in the distant past when the colony was a privately held home that sets the action in motion. In fact, The Ghost Orchid is all about how the sins of the past never really go away, and ghosts tormented a hundred years before will not rest even after everyone who knew them is long dead and gone.

The story begins with Ellis Brooks, who is working on a book based on people and events that came together one long-ago summer at the Bosco Estate in upstate New York. Arriving in Bosco, Ellis is determined to conduct her research and craft a novel that will resurrect the reputation of spiritualist Corinth Blackwell. The once famous medium disappeared from Bosco, along with the only surviving child of the estate’s owners, during the summer of 1893. Blackwell has long been blamed for the untimely deaths that occurred during her visit and it has been suspected that along with her “accomplice,” Tom Quinn, she either kidnapped or killed little Alice Latham. Ellis thinks there is more to the story and hopes to uncover new clues while writing her fictionalized version of the events.

Soon enough it becomes clear that whatever happened over one hundred years before at Bosco is bringing all sorts of nastiness upon the current residents. The resident writers also slowly realize that they have too much in common to be coincidence, and those similarities might explain why they are being drawn back to the summer that changed everything for Corinth Blackwell and the Latham family. Ellis proves herself to be a worthy detective, while adding some of her own medium-like talents to the mix and making the creepy atmosphere a tad bit easier to cope with for everyone else. The big story though is the one that Goodman writes in tandem with the contemporary storyline. By recounting the summer of 1893 from Corinth Blackwell’s point of view she reveals several unsavory Latham family secrets that make for a gripping read from beginning to end.

The Ghost Orchid has lots of drama, tons of atmosphere, and an excellent historical storyline. Ellis does a great job of trying to figure things out for herself and everyone else, but it was Corinth who really captured my attention. Her quest to discover what was so horribly wrong at Bosco kept me up reading several nights in a row. The whole reason for her journey there in the first place -- to contact the three deceased Latham children -- was enough to creep me out, but when she finds out what is really going on at the estate, it is nothing short of a revelation. Of course when Ellis visits the children’s graveyard in the modern day, that moment is full of its own set of shocking literary conclusions as well.

Goodman has quite a reputation for storytelling (The Lake of Dead Languages in particular drew favorable comparisons to Donna Tartt) and with The Ghost Orchid she proves yet again that she knows how to craft an excellent story that readers will enjoy sinking into. This is the perfect book to bring along on vacation; it will amuse and intrigue and keep the reader guessing right up to the very satisfactory ending.

The Ghost Orchid by Carol Goodman
Ballantine
ISBN 0345462130
336 pages