by Garth Stein
I've read three books by Garth Stein now and The Art of Racing in the Rain remains my favorite. He is a northwest author who lives in Seattle. Being a Seattlite transplanted to the Bluegrass Commonwealth of Kentucky, I really enjoy the snippets I come across in his books that take me right back to my old neighborhoods.
In the very beginning of the book he drives us past Las Margaritas... oh, what yummy Mexican food we used to get there... on our way to the Riddell House, the dilapidated mansion from Seattle's glory days of logging, where the story takes place.
Riddell House sits on 200 acres of undeveloped land overlooking Puget Sound. How hard my brain worked to locate the probable but fictitious site. Was it Carkeek Park? I decided the park's location is too southern, but it's size of 220 acres is about right. Since the Seattle Golf club abruptly stops the flow of 3rd Ave NW where 145th comes into it, I've made that my final guess. This is, of course,based on the location of Las Margaritas at 145th & Aurora. This location is also much closer to the "Old Sears Store" mentioned later in the book. Was it ever known as the "New Sears Store"? Not in my lifetime, but I did chuckle at the reference. As well as references to Ernst Hardware and Pay N Pack (both long defunct), Aurora Rents and the #5 bus into Seattle along Phinney Ridge. Please forgive my transgressions - I do miss my 'hometown.'
This story centers around the Riddell family in the 1990's and their ancestors who built the mansion several generations back. A promise had been made to return the land to it's natural state, but to date the property had only been passed down. The second generation's hands were tied by a trust and the third generation just not willing to move on. This would be the elderly Samuel Riddell, suffering from dementia and unwilling to leave the estate where his beloved wife died, yet still dances for him during his sleepless nights.
Samuel's son and daughter reunite after more than 20 years to declare the old man incompetent and move him off the estate so they can cash in on it. With them is his teenage grandson whom he'd never met.
Samuel's daughter Serena, is an odd character. She speaks oddly and I had a difficult time trying to figure her out. This is, of course, by design. She has lived with and cared for her father since her mother's passing, 23 years earlier. Her older brother, Jones, was sent away to school immediately after their mother's death and had never returned. He's a sad, somewhat pathetic figure, dealing with his own bankruptcy and failing marriage. His son, Trevor comes to Seattle with him hoping somehow he can fix his parents' broken marriage by fixing his dad. The answer to everyone's problems seems to be in selling the estate and cashing in.
The history of Riddell House and it's many mysteries is told through journals, letters, some memories and of course the ghosts who live there, wanting the land returned to nature. But what of the ghosts? Are they real or not?
A sudden light is a ghost story and sometimes I felt it was a bit of a cliche as far as ghost stories go. One realizes from the beginning that the story is being told in present day by Samuel's grandson, Trevor, but at times I wondered if he was now the ghost that haunts the mansion. The answer to that question remains within the book. No spoilers from me.
This book is released to the public tomorrow, September 30, 2014. I was delighted to read it before publication. I give it four of five shots.