Friday, March 9, 2012

Wide Open - Deborah Coates


About the book

When Sergeant Hallie Michaels comes back to South Dakota from Afghanistan on ten days' compassionate leave, her sister Dell's ghost is waiting at the airport to greet her.

The sheriff says that Dell's death was suicide, but Hallie doesn't believe it. Something happened or Dell's ghost wouldn't still be hanging around. Friends and family, mourning Dell's loss, think Hallie's letting her grief interfere with her judgment.  

The one person who seems willing to listen is the deputy sheriff, Boyd Davies, who shows up everywhere and helps when he doesn't have to.  

As Hallie asks more questions, she attracts new ghosts, women who disappeared without a trace.  Soon, someone's trying to beat her up, burn down her father's ranch, and stop her investigation.

Hallie's going to need Boyd, her friends, and all the ghosts she can find to defeat an enemy who has an unimaginable ancient power at his command.

304 pages (hardcover)
Published on: March 13, 2012
Published by: Tor
Author’s webpage

This book was sent as a review copy by Tor.

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Every time I feel like I’m about ready to write off all urban fantasy and never again venture into that sub genre, I read a book that makes me rethink myself. This time the book that made me rethink my desire to never again read anything urban fantasy was Wide Open. While it’s billed as urban fantasy, it ended up being absolutely nothing I was expecting it to be which really worked in the book’s favor.

I expected Wide Open to be the typical girl-meets-mysterious-paranormal-guy type story with ghosts thrown in, but it’s really none of that. While there is romance, it takes the back burner to the plot. Actually, not even the back burner. The romance seems to flit through the book and while it takes place, it’s easy to gloss over and not essential to the plot itself. It’s more like a fine spice. It adds flavor to the story, but not enough to become overbearing. That’s exactly how romance in a book should be.

Coates chooses to set Wide Open in the vast open spaces of South Dakota. The setting itself is genius and Coates use of it is nothing short of amazing. The first thing I should point out is that I doubt I’ve read any other books that take place in South Dakota. It’s not a place most people think of setting a book. That makes it rather unique and unique is always eye catching. Secondly, Coates has a wonderful ability to bring South Dakota to life. The countryside is vast and open as only the plains can be, and this seems to contribute to the stark and lonely feeling that hangs like a pall over the main character. The atmosphere is dark, and that’s fitting seeing as how the protagonist’s sister just died.

Perhaps it was the setting that I enjoyed most from Wide Open. Coates had a way with transporting the reader to South Dakota. The area is exactly what is needed for the type of story being told. The land is vast and sprawling with lots of open spaces, which add to the feeling of aloneness. The land itself seems to symbolize Hallie’s own inner struggle against the general consensus of what happened to her sister. I honestly don’t think the book would have been nearly as good if Coates had put it in New York City or somewhere like that. The plot relies on the area and Coates is a master at weaving both plot and area together to create something that is really atmospheric and remarkable.

While the plot isn’t incredibly new and unique, Coates ability to tell her tale is what makes it shine. Her writing is fluid, and eerie enough to really make this ghost story stand out. She’s incredibly atmospheric and events transpire at a rapid pace which makes this quite a page turner and it's fairly short length makes this a quick read. However, the antagonist, when put in contrast with the rest of the book, was a bit cookie cutter. Perhaps I’m just a bit too exhausted with the person who does unspeakable evils to attain some illustrious goal.

The characterization, especially with Hallie, really shines. While other characters aren’t quite as well cut as her, it’s to be expected. This is primarily Hallie’s story. Perhaps where characterization lacks is with the secondary characters that seem to enter and exit the story occasionally without any solid reasons. While many are excused as Hallie’s former acquaintances, their reasons for being in the book seem rather paltry and, occasionally, jarring and abrupt. Furthermore, some of the dialogue, especially with the Sheriff, seemed uncomfortable.

Wide Open isn’t what you’d expect from an urban fantasy. While this is the first book in a series, it is nicely self-contained with no cliffhanger ending to annoy readers. Coates really brings South Dakota to life, and uses the plains as an important story telling instrument. Her writing is lyrical and incredibly atmospheric. If, occasionally, the characterization lacks or the dialogue is slightly stilted, it’s easily overlooked. Wide Open is an incredibly solid, fast paced book that is a welcome step away from typical. Coates is an author worth keeping an eye on.

4/5 stars

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