Imagine being shot in the head and then waking up from a six-month coma to find you can see ghosts; ghosts who are just as real to you as living human beings, thus plunging you into a surreal state where you can’t tell who’s alive and who’s dead. That’s the premise of Ghost Detective, a paranormal mystery novel by Scott William Carter set in modern-day Portland, Oregon.
I got this book on Amazon a few weeks ago when it was on sale for .99 cents. Since I like paranormal/supernatural stories and detective mysteries, it seemed a fairly good fit to my interests. The main character, Myron Vale, is a former Portland police officer whose career ends tragically when he’s shot during a robbery at the local Starbucks. Still retaining the bullet in his brain—comfortably nestled in the space between the two hemispheres—Myron finds he can now see and communicate with ghosts, and they are everywhere.
This is because in the Ghost Detective universe, all the people who have ever lived are still hanging around. As far as Myron knows, no one has been shuttled off to heaven or hell. Instead, the dead continue to exist alongside the living in a sort of limbo. It’s never explained in the book why that is, and god appears to be non-existent. Instead, this hidden society of the unseen dead is managed by the Department of Souls.
The book follows Myron as he struggles to deal with the hand that fate dealt him while helping a recently deceased woman find her husband who looks a lot like the man who shot him all those years ago.
The book begins like a typical noire detective novel with the entrance of a blond bombshell named Karen Thorne. Karen wants Myron to find her husband, because she’s desperate to know whether he engineered her death to inherit her enormous fortune. At first Myron has zero interest in taking on the case but is immediately swayed when he sees a picture of the guy and realizes he looks like the Starbucks shooter. Figuring this was a good opportunity to get some answers, Myron agrees to help her.
Ghost Detective starts out strong but fizzles and ends in an unsatisfying way. A good portion of the book is spent providing backstory about the shooting and aftermath, which didn’t add anything to the plot or advance it in any meaningful way. Since Carter used an alternating chapter format (e.g. one chapter in the present and one in the past) and this was the first book in a series, I didn’t really mind. The backstory was interesting and provided some insight into Myron’s character and relationships with his wife Billie and his ex-partner Alesha as well as a few bits of lore about the world Myron inhabits.
Unfortunately, the mystery portion of the story ended in a mild convoluted mess, almost as if Carter remembered at the last minute he needed to tie all the issues introduced in previous chapters together. For instance, Billie and Myron are having a hard time moving forward in their marriage in large part due to Billie allegedly committing suicide while Myron was in a coma. Carter’s attempt to tie Billie’s death in with the quest for Karen’s husband feels heavy handed and actually ends up detracting from Billie’s story.
As a result, the climax was unsatisfying and tropey, so I didn’t feel like I got a good enough payoff for my investment.
I didn’t feel like there was a lot of depth to the characters. Billie was always some mix of brooding, distant, and surly and it was pretty obvious from the jump that she didn’t want to be with Myron. Alesha was the potential replacement wife who was kind of just around to provide information and sexual tension, and Karen was the gorgeous quest giver who occasionally attempted to have ghost sex with Myron. Yeah. All the women who got screen time—save Myron’s mother—were described as beautiful with great bodies, which I found to be unsettling and disappointing.
Myron, for his part, was okay as a main character. I liked his snarkiness and it’s pretty obvious he cares about and likes to help people, but he does tend to be irreverent in situations that call for a modicum of seriousness and tact.
The biggest problem I had with him, though, is he makes little effort to understand the ghost world, despite the fact that there is an agency—The Department of Souls—dedicated to managing the happenings in the ghost dimension. He constantly harps on the fact that he’s unable to tell the difference between ghosts and living people, but he doesn’t attempt to do any research or make contact with others who could provide some insight and tools. He relies heavily on Billie’s assistance to navigate this new world but doesn’t do anything to help himself besides rail about the unfairness of it all.
The ghosts that inhabit the universe are mildly interesting. One Myron has any regular contact with besides Billie is Elvis (or an impersonator) who grills ghostly hot dogs for other non-corporeal inhabitants. There’s also a priest who appears occasionally to provide cryptic messages and an agent of the NAANCP (The National Association of Non-Corporeal Persons) who tries to get Myron to work for agency.
Unfortunately, many of the ghosts are depicted in a stereotypical manner. For instance, it seems all the Native ghosts are described as wearing regalia, deerskins, or similar clothing. Additionally, it seems as though Carter couldn’t decide how much agency ghosts have since some seemed able to change their appearance while others were stuck looking as they did when they died.
Even more tragically, any mental illness a person suffered from in life persisted after they died and ghosts can develop psychological problems on the other side. I wasn’t too fond of this, but it appears that much of the stuff that happen to ghosts and the abilities they develop is tied directly into that person’s beliefs and expectations. So, if a ghost believes he or she is still mentally ill then that illness will continue to manifest.
All in all, I didn’t mind hanging around the characters (well, I really didn’t like Billie), but I wasn’t really invested in them as much as I thought I should be.
I really enjoyed Carter’s writing style, which is highly descriptive. He does a good job of drawing you in and making you feel as though you were there in the scene; though, sometimes this gets in the way and slows down the action. Unlike many other self-publish books I’ve read, there weren’t many misspelled words or grammatical mistakes, which made the book much more enjoyable to read.
Ghost Detective by Scott William Carter wasn’t bad. I’ll give it a solid 3 out of 5 stars. If you’re looking for something to pass the time and this book happens to come up in your Amazon recommends on sale, then it would be worth hitting the buy button.