Monday, January 2, 2017

The Guests on South Battery, by Karen White

Berkley Publishing Group, ISBN 97804514, January 2017

Everything is finally going smoothly for Melanie Trenholm. She's married to Jack; their twin babies are beautiful; she loves her stepdaughter, Nola; she's finally headed back to work as a real estate agent, work she loves.

There is the small issue of getting phone calls from an unknown number, at odd hours, with no one there. She has some suspicion that these calls are, like the ones from her grandmother, from someone who has died.

Then a hole opens up in her back yard, and the contractor who has been doing the restoration on the historic home she inherited says there's a cistern down there. She can't just have it filled in. There might be historically significant artifacts, and her friend, Sophie Wallen-Arasi, a professor of Historic Preservation at the College of Charleston, will not let her hear the end of it if she just buries them again.

Even more unsettling to her future peace of mind, though it doesn't seem so initially, a new client arrives in her office at the very start of her first day back to work at the end of her extended maternity leave. Jayne Smith looks oddly familiar, but says she just has one of "those faces," so that people often think they must have meet her before. She's an orphan from Birmingham, who grew up in foster homes and has no clue who her parents were--but she's just inherited a house in Charleston. And not just any house; it was the home of Caroline Pinckney, a wealthy and historic family. The house is also historic--and Jayne wants no part of owning an historic house. She wants to sell it as soon as possible, and buy a modern condo.

Melanie basically agrees. She's reconciled to her own historic home--now that the ghosts she and her mother, but not most of their friends and family, can see and hear, have been laid to rest. She hopes there are no ghosts to deal with in the house on South Battery.

But there are. And those ghosts are hiding a terrible secret.

This is a complicated tale of hidden relationships and characters growing and revealing themselves. We learn fairly quickly that Melanie has more than a touch of obsessive-compulsive disorder, as well as being very insecure; the reasons behind this unfold more slowly. Her relationships with her parents are still rebuilding after a long separation, and much as she and Jack love each other, she's still not really secure in that relationship.  Her cousin Rebecca is a special kind of torture.

And all this is before we know anything about the Pinckney family, and the secrets Melanie's mother Ginette hasn't told her. Or what the ghosts are hiding.

The characters here were satisfying and likable, though some readers may find Melanie's OCD and insecurity annoying, and the plot definitely kept me involved. This is apparently the fifth in an ongoing series, and this was clear as I was reading it, but I didn't find it an obstacle to understanding what was going on. There's enough background included to support the current story, but not enough to distract.

Recommended for a low-key, comfortable read.

I received a free electronic galley from the publisher via NetGalley, and reviewed it voluntarily.