A Ghost of a Chance

It’s 2006 in New Orleans, and Viola Valentine’s life is a nightmare. Her home was all but destroyed by Katrina, she lost her job at a small NOLA newspaper, and she’s divorcing her despised but still devoted husband. Oh, and her daughter died of leukemia three years earlier.

Having done a few similar pieces for her former employer, Viola reinvents herself up as a freelance travel writer and is promptly recruited by the kind Henry Wallace, whose firm organizes junkets for travel writers. While her ex lives on the second floor of their mold-riddled house and pretends it can be renovated, Viola takes up residence in a shabby guest house in Lafayette, so it’s not hard for her to pack her polka-dotted suitcase and head for the Louis Armstrong International Airport, destined for Eureka Springs, Arkansas. She’s joining a group of travel writers to experience the town’s natural attractions, along with its cultural and culinary scene, for their publications.

But first she has to slip by the dripping-wet lady belting out “You Are My Sunshine” standing a few deafening feet away from her airport seat. Until the nattily-dressed man across from Viola snaps his fingers to shut her up.

That’s Carmine, a fellow travel writer who informs her she’s a SCANC — Specific Communication with Apparitions, Non-Entities, and the Comatose — because he’s one too. Ensconced at the Crescent Hotel, famous for its nightly ghost tours, Viola discovers her psychic abilities allow her to communicate with spirits who died by water, which was triggered by her traumatic Katrina experiences. She meets a host of ghosts as she follows the tour guides, but struggles to make sense of one particularly persistent spirit with the help of Calliope (aka Merrill Seligman, the owner of Rainbow Waters, Eureka Springs’ New Age shop).

While Ghost of a Chance is a generally enjoyable mystery, it takes far too long for the story to get off the ground — readers are nearly halfway through the book before Cherie Claire finally leaves Viola’s past behind to focus on her newly-emergent psychic abilities. Impatient readers could be forgiven for skipping to the end or giving up altogether. Ghost would would be far more compelling after attention from a strict editor who excised the excess to showcase a compelling storyline.

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