“The Guests on South Battery,” by Karen White

Karen White

Reviewed by Laura Aluise

“There is no escaping the dead. On the slender peninsula that is Charleston, we cannot help being surrounded by them, packed as they are into ancient cemeteries behind ornate iron fencing, beneath our streets, under our homes, and parking garages. Most residents of the Holy City are blissfully unaware of its former citizens…others, like me, are not so lucky.”

Melanie Trenholm is the obsessive-compulsive mother of twins, reluctant psychic realtor, and main character of the novel The Guests on South Battery. Author Karen White has created a world seen entirely through Melanie’s eyes. The story begins when Melanie receives a mysterious phone call at 4:10 a.m. She immediately realizes this isn’t an ordinary call because the ring tone isn’t a riff of her beloved ABBA. She feels repulsed upon answering the call and when no one responds she hangs up. Little does she know that this call is about to unleash a series of events that will completely turn her world as she knows it, upside down.

Karen White’s fifth addition to the Tradd Street series begins with this mysterious call, which ultimately makes Melanie late for work on her first day back after maternity leave. When she finally arrives, the receptionist is not a familiar face and the wall reserved for “top realtor” is unrecognizable too. She becomes more upset when the new receptionist, Jolly, presents her with several post-it notes containing phone numbers with requests to call them back—all from people she dislikes—but she brightens when Jolly tells her a client is waiting in her office.

The client, Jayne Smith, instantly strikes a chord with Melanie. Jayne has recently inherited an old house in Charleston from someone she has never met. She wants Melanie to help her sell it. They enlist the services of Dr. Sophie Wallen-Arasi, Melanie’s best friend, professor, and architectural expert, to take a look at the house. Jayne says she is an orphan and has no idea why a complete stranger would leave her a house. Jayne also reveals she is a nanny which excites Melanie, because she has been searching for one to care for her twins. Promptly, she sets up an interview for Jayne to meet her family.

Melanie’s husband, famous writer Jack Trenholm, is thrilled at the prospect of hiring help after spending a rather hectic day trying to care for the twins while he tries to write. Jayne agrees to be the live-in nanny on the condition that she be allowed to have a night light because she is terrified of the dark.

Ginette Prioleau, Melanie’s mother, who is psychic, drops in for a visit as does Amelia Trenholm, Jack’s mother. They reveal that Jayne inherited her home from their old school friend Button Pinkney because Button loved to help those less fortunate. Both Ginette and Amelia claim to have seen Jayne before, but Jayne says she just has one of those “familiar” faces.

Ginette tells Melanie that her cousin Rebecca has been trying to reach her about a troubling dream: “She sees a young girl in a white nightgown, and she’s banging on the wall. Except she’s banging on the inside of the wall.” Melanie questions what that has to do with her. Her mother replies, “Because the girl was calling your name. And it doesn’t necessarily mean this house either.”

This line was foreshadowing. We soon learn that Jayne’s inherited house is haunted and that one spirit in particular wants both Jayne and Melanie to leave. Odd things keep occurring around Jayne. Melanie notices that she cannot see spirits when Jayne is present. Jack also complains that he has writer’s block and cannot get any work done since Jayne moved in. A creepy antique doll and mysterious cat start scaring workmen away from the renovations on Jayne’s inherited house. Jayne’s night light even breaks, sending Jayne into hysterics.

These occurrences convince Melanie, Ginette, and Jack that they need to investigate Jayne’s past and see if there’s an unknown connection with Button Pinkney. During the investigation, Melanie becomes increasingly insecure about Jayne and trusts her less and less, so she flees with the twins to her mother’s house. Melanie’s emotional turmoil, as well as the spirits in Jayne’s house, builds tension for the reader.

When the truth is finally revealed, it almost seems too much to bear. This book was a page turner all the way up to the end. However as a fan of the series, I was disappointed in the climax and its resolution. There was so much tension that I expected a dragged-out dog fight. Instead, it was over in a matter of a paragraph—and over in a way that was like having the wind knocked out of your sails. It was just too easy to resolve after all the turmoil and I still have trouble getting past it. It is my hope in the future that when it comes to these scenes in upcoming books, that Karen White does not skimp on the most poignant and frightening moments.

The book was still a good read and perhaps others may not feel as I do about the climax and resolution.

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