April 26, 2011

New series promises thrills and chills

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Open the cover of the first book in Amanda Stevens’ Graveyard Queen Series, and meet a haunted but lovely young lady. Amelia Gray has a stellar professional reputation as a cemetery restorer, gained from her travels about the South where she works in old graveyards, researching half-forgotten information, repairing broken headstones, and re-mapping the paths of the sometimes uneasy resting places of the dead.

Right from page one of The Restorer, Stevens ladles on the atmosphere, creating an eerie, make-you-look-over-your-shoulder page-turner. Amelia and her father, a cemetery caretaker, have both inherited the unfortunate ability to see ghosts, who appear repeatedly to any who recognize their presence, seeking their hosts’ life-giving qualities and slowly draining them of their energy and vitality. Without giving anything away here, suffice it to say Amelia’s dad has given her four unshakeable rules to live by, to keep those spirits at bay.

Now she has a commission from an elite Southern college to restore an old cemetery on the college grounds. But a very contemporary dead body—or two—have just been discovered there, and right away the insistent world of the present collides with some very old, very hidden secrets, as Amelia tries to keep her grip on the present and ward off the past. Amelia runs right into Devlin, an enigmatic police detective (a perfect stand-in for all those brooding heroes of past Gothic novels), and suddenly all the rules fall to dust. He’s human, all right, but he’s haunted by ghosts of his own, and these suddenly threaten Amelia, who cannot seem to keep her distance, either from Devlin or from the trailing ghosts of his dead wife, Mariama, and their child.

In spooky page after spooky page, we visit the site of Mariama’s demise and the place where she was raised learning the southern Gullah traditions; accompany Amelia to moss-laden graves and tree-hidden mausoleums; witness the twilight appearance of an insidious dark entity; and try to puzzle out the motives of the real-life people whose connections to crimes past and present have engulfed her. Amelia needs to save her own life by uncovering their secrets. But don’t expect a real “end” to this story. As with any good mystery series, the romantic and mysterious web that’s woven here points straight on to a second book, already slated for the fall.


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