cover image Carriage House

Carriage House

Carla Neggers. Mira Books, $6.5 (384pp) ISBN 978-1-55166-790-4

Brimming with Neggers's (The Waterfall) usual flair for creating likeable, believable characters and her keen recognition of the obstacles that can muddle relationships, this suspenseful modern-day tale is delightfully populated with 19th-century ghosts. When Tess accepts a rundown house by the sea in lieu of payment for a design job, she never expects a skeleton buried in the cellar and the handsome, taciturn widower next door to be part of the package. But the skeleton vanishes before anyone else sees it, throwing doubt on Tess's claims and throwing her into a panic, as the stealing of the skeleton likely points to murder. This also puts a damper on her unsought, but irresistible, romance with neighbor Andrew. Neggers seasons her people with warm, genuine details that give everyone, even the most secondary characters, a depth and quirkiness unusual in a genre that relies too often on stereotypes to fill out the cast. Tess's frequent references to her mother's death from cancer when Tess was a child seem an awkward and a heavy-handed way to give the heroine some baggage, but Tess and Andrew's magnetic dance toward each other and the tense drama surrounding the identity of the missing skeleton engage the reader instantly. Neggers delivers a colorful, well-spun story that shines with sincere emotion among a field overstocked with contemporaries that rely on lots of flashy passion but little soul. (Feb.)