Today’s Mystery Monday feature is Second Glance by Jodi Picoult. This is not only a really great murder mystery but it involves ghost hunting, a fight for aboriginal rights, a spunky kid with a rare disease called xeroderma pigmentosum (XP), early discoveries of resuscitation post hypothermia, and an embarrassing scientific project sanctioned by law in Vermont (and 31 other states) in the early 20th century called eugenics — a sterilization program to improve the genetic quality of the human population, a project on which Nazi Germany later based its efforts to eliminate Jews, gypsies, homosexuals, and the physically and mentally handicapped. It is also a kind of “six degrees of separation” story with many diverse characters eventually connecting up.
The story begins with ghost-hunter Ross Wakeman, a man who can’t seem to die no matter how hard he tries. And he’s tried several times in a variety of ways. Since his fiancé, Aimee, was killed in a car crash, Ross’ one goal has been to reunite with her. Failing to cross over from this life to the next, he’s trying to contact her in the spirit world. When he finds out the TV show host he’s working for is a fake trying to take advantage of people’s vulnerability, he walks out and heads back to a small town in Vermont where his sister and nephew live, Comtosook. Here he becomes embroiled in a land dispute between Abenaki natives and a construction company. Trying to determine whether a ghost haunts the house where the Redhook Group wants to build a new strip mall, Ross encounters a ghost so real it takes him several encounters before he realizes it is actually a ghost he’s falling in love with. When he starts looking into her history, he finds she was a murder victim.
There are lots of great characters in this story (I had to start underlining names so I could keep everyone straight at first). Ross’ nephew, Ethan, has XP so his mother, Shelby sleeps part of the day and stays up with him at night to home school him and let him go out and ride his skateboard before the sun comes up because he can’t be exposed to it without having permanent damage done to his skin and developing skin cancer. As you might imagine Shelby, has zilch of a social life. The old man who has sold the land to Redhook is dying in a nursing home; the sheriff, Eli, part Abenaki, is caught up in the middle of the dispute; and there’s a little girl living in Maryland who sees the same lady Ross does — on a regular basis: eight-year-old Lucy is literally being haunted and knows there is no place she can hide from the lady. One of the most intriguing characters is 102-year-old Az Thompson, night watchman at the nearby quarry, an Abenaki who has organized the protest and seems to possess secret knowledge and wisdom.
This is a top-notch novel in every sense and explains Jodi Picoult’s reputation. The plot is intricate and weaves the characters’ stories in and out in a tantalizing way, giving tidbits of information that you rely on later as the various strands begin to mesh in surprising ways. Everything hinges on events from the past, a time when two Vermont scientists were involved in trying to screen out the undesirables in their state through legal sterilization. These scientists were the father and husband of the ghost, Lia. As the documents are uncovered from the basement of the town clerk’s office, Ross, Shelby, and Eli are horrified to realize the extent to which the Abenaki population has been reduced by “voluntary” sterilization. The whole premise of genetic engineering comes into question as characters are drawn together to try to determine what really happened to Lia in 1932. Wonderful descriptions, detailed process of paranormal activities, and realistic character development bring this story to life in a totally compelling way. * * * * *
If you, too, are a fan of mysteries, I hope you’ll not only enjoy my Monday posts but will contribute by publishing your own Monday Mystery, mentioning my meme, then come to my blog, comment on your mystery (or mine) briefly, and include the link directly to your mystery review. You can also copy my MMM badge to your post.