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The Girl From Dark Dakota
Bryan Devore, author

Adult; Mystery/Thriller; (Market)

In Williston, North Dakota, nearly a year has passed since Annabel Heller's murder last Halloween. Now four lives will be forever changed. High school senior Rachel Black hears Annabel's ghost crying out in her dreams. Madam Bovell, a medium who sells fraudulent reading since losing her gift years ago, finds her abilities mysteriously returning—and guiding her to Rachel. Jason Hardy, an auditor up from Chicago, sees inexplicable things while working late in Williston's old hospital wing. And Dr. Donovan Graves, bereaved father and renowned debunker of paranormal research, feels his son's spirit urgently trying to reach him. Only five days before the next Halloween, time is running out for all four to uncover the secrets of a small town, and the lurking evil that threatens everyone in it.
This spine-tingling paranormal thriller, set mostly in the modern-day Midwest, wraps a ghost story around a whodunit as the protagonists battle both conventional and supernatural opponents to bring justice for a murdered woman named Annabel. Mysterious messages summon a disparate group of people to North Dakota, including skeptical psychology professor Graves, faded clairvoyant Madame Bovell, anxious auditor Jason Hardy, and local teenager Rachel, who has a strong psychic connection with Annabel. The group strives to communicate with the spirit of Annabel, victim in a tragic love triangle.

Devore has created a vivid cast of emotionally damaged people. Especially well limned are Graves, mourning his long-dead son, and Bovell, whose career Graves destroyed decades before (when he was a debunker of psychic frauds). Their uneasy friendship, born of his desperation to contact his son, David, is touchingly believable. In Rachel, the author deftly dovetails the normal feelings and doubts of a teenage girl with her frightening psychic gifts. Although some characters aren't fully developed and the plot occasionally becomes overheated, the principals neatly carry the story forward, because readers quickly grow to care deeply about them.

Paranormal events abound, and the author delivers some truly terrifying (yet not gory) moments. However, everyday scenes shine equally well. The author has a good ear and eye for the difficulties visited on those who live in rural America. Jason, struggling emotionally in his own life, gets a lesson about rural poverty as frightening as any of the ghostly events. The bone-chilling scenes, firmly grounded with multidimensional characters, will keep readers fully invested in the story, as both earthly and supernatural plotlines merge into a satisfying conclusion.

Takeaway: Fright fans who want their scares in the context of a believable story will find themselves engaged by both the scenes of terror and the rich human drama.

Great for fans of: Stephen King, Anne Rice.

Production grades
Cover: A-
Design and typography: B+
Illustrations: N/A
Editing: B+
Marketing copy: A-