Southern Gothic
by Veronica Wilde, paranormal (2009)
Liquid Silver Books, $6.10, ISBN 978-1-59578-635-7

Veronica Wilde's Southern Gothic is a ménage à trois story with a touch of paranormal mystery. Yes, there are three people here - two men and one woman - and there are ghosts as well.

Sutton Pierce is so blue. Our bestselling author takes a trip to the lavish Southern estate of his father's friend Grayson Pennington in Cypress Creek, Arkansas to attend that man's 70th birthday. He's all black and blue over the fact that he recently discovered that his boyfriend Jax was "cruelly unfaithful". Hmm, can one be "kindly unfaithful"? When the story opens, Grayson decides to liven up the party by conducting a séance. While Sutton doesn't believe in ghosts, he is still startled when Grayson starts getting messages about death. And this is before the power goes out.

Hadley Barnes is the local bartender as well as resident ghost hunter. It is she who tells Sutton of the local curse that plagues Cypress Creek. Some 15 years ago, Hadley's boyfriend Patrick left the very pregnant Hadley at home to attend his high school graduation ceremony. Patrick and some 200 kids decided to hold a big party in a half-finished house in Willow Point, located across Grayson's lake house, and - bam! - the house collapsed, killing some 37 kids in the process. What triggered the curse was that those kids who managed to escape did not call for help. Instead, they let their friends die, mostly out of fear of being arrested by the cops. As you can imagine, the dead kids returned shortly after and they have been keeping at it ever since, causing a few of the survivors to experience fatal accidents each year. So far 43 had died, including Hadley's boyfriend Patrick, and the numbers are growing. People begin to suspect that these deaths are caused by ghosts out for vengeance, and there are some evidence that suggests that this is indeed the case.

Hadley and her ghost hunter friends make it their mission to get to the bottom of this matter and, if there really are angry ghosts on the prowl, try to convince them to move on either by using some banishing rituals or enlisting the aid of a priest. Sutton is soon allowed to tag along and be a part of the gang, which is convenient as he's attracted to Hadley. He hadn't been attracted to a woman since he was in that unhappy relationship with Jax, but Hadley is more than happy to help him get back into the pool, so to speak. Imagine Sutton's surprise when Jax shows up later, seeking a reconciliation.

Southern Gothic's greatest strength is that is a very engaging horror mystery. Hadley is a compelling heroine as she is strong, capable, and self-aware. She also displays a refreshingly normal sense of humor and she can also experience desire without acting like a neurotic twit. Since she has an emotional investment in seeing this mystery solved (her relationship with Patrick up to his death was actually a pretty good one), this angle provides some poignancy to the story line. There are some chills to be had here too - the ghosts are coming back this year with a vengeance and their activities are escalating as graduation day approaches. Has Grayson's séance at the start of the story triggered an escalation of paranormal activities in this town?

Now, the romance. What is it doing in this story? I'm being serious here. A good ménage à trois needs some space to be developed in a credible manner, but in this story, the author can't seem to find the proper balance between romance and the external subplot. As a result, the romance between Sutton and Hadley is pretty underdeveloped - they are better off as friends than lovers, to me - and the abrupt shift from love triangle to ménage à trois doesn't help make the romantic aspects of the story any more believable. For a long time, Hadley is convinced that Patrick is her one true love - and this is even after she'd slept with the two men - so that should tell you how "deep" the romance is in this story. If you ask me, the author should have just removed Jax from the story and focus on Hadley and Sutton. Perhaps then Ms Wilde would have the opportunity and space to develop the romance better. At any rate, after a while, I begin to skim quickly through the love scenes because I'm far more interested in the ghost subplot.

Southern Gothic is therefore a bit of a tough one to rate. I have a great time with the ghost subplot but I can't bring myself to care one bit about the threesome thing. I don't even see the grand love between Sutton and Hadley, much less the one with Jax in the mix. Therefore, my final score of this book reflects how much I've enjoyed the ghost subplot. Perhaps it's best to view this story as a cozy horror mystery with romance instead of a paranormal romance, because that's how this book works best for me.

Rating: 86

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