It’s June 1920 and America has gone through some major changes and is on the brink of many more. The Civil War ended 60 years ago and on December 6, 1865, with the ratification of the 13th Amendment, slavery officially ended in this country. Women were now on the brink of being allowed to vote.
Two years earlier in 1918, World War I ended leaving many women without husbands. One of these women was 24 year old Raissa James, a school teacher living in Savannah, Georgia. Her husband, Alex, was killed in the Great War in 1918 and she’s been trying to get over the grief his death caused her. Her only living relative, her Uncle Brett Airlie living in Mobile, Alabama worries about Raissa and has invited her to spend some time with him during the summer.
Raissa hops on a train and soon meets Robert Aultman who is on his way to Mobile for a meeting about his shipping business. Coincidentally, his meeting is with Raissa’s uncle Brett who designs steam engines for paddle-wheelers. The two are thrilled to learn that Brett has also invited Robert to the big party he’s throwing for Raissa.
Uncle Brett’s huge home is named Caoin House which in Gaelic means lament or grieve. When Raissa once again sees the 64-room Antebellum house on its 7,000 surrounding acres she has no idea how apropos the house’s name is.
Raissa tells her uncle and some friends that she’s very interested in ghosts and the occult and would like to eventually become an author of ghost stories. To her amazement her uncle and friends are very supportive of her plans. Mobile, Alabama still feels that women are not strong enough to deal with the little details of life let alone become a writer of ghost stories. And even though slavery has be abolished, Mobile still treats black men and women as if they are second class citizens. It’s not a very progressive city.
Raissa learns a little about all the tragedies that have surrounded Caoin House. Many people have suspiciously died throughout the years and these souls are haunting Brett’s home. Brett has seen a female ghost and Raissa has seen a male ghost and there are other spirits as well, some who are very angry and dangerous. But neither Brett nor his niece are completely sure who is haunting the home or why but Raissa is determined to find out the truth about the history of the house and why the dead souls can’t rest in peace even if the process harms her, her uncle, and the friends she loves.
“The Book of Beloved” by Carolyn Haines is one of the best books I’ve read in quite a while. From the very first page I was pulled into Raissa’s life, her beliefs, and her dreams. Ms. Haines beautifully explains what life was like in the south during 1920. Women had little if any rights and were ignored by men except to be their wives. If they asked any question they were threatened that their husbands would be told. That is if the women were acknowledged at all.
Blacks, unlike women, had the right to vote but were still treated as if they were slaves. Life was not easy back then and the author makes sure that readers understand that. It’s obvious that Ms. Haines does a ton of research for her stories which adds a wonderful tone of authenticity.
Ms. Haines weaves a complex tale of Raissa’s life in 1920 and the lives of those who lived in Caoin House when it was first built by Eli Whitehead for his wife Eva before the Civil War. All these lives, past and present, intertwine with each other.
And then there is the ghost story part to the tale. We aren’t talking Dean Koontz gruesome or even Stephen King’s horror. I think it more like Henry James’ “The Turn of the Screw.” “The Book of Beloved” is frightening at times but not the kind of fright that will keep you up at night. It’s that kind of fear that compels you read as fast as you can to discover what is going to happen next.
I’m keeping my fingers crossed that Carolyn Haines will turn this into a new series. Raissa is definitely a character I need to read more about and join her in other ghostly adventures.
Not enough can be said about this prolific author. She’s won many awards that proves her talent. Give any of her books a try especially the Sarah Booth Delaney Mystery Series. But make sure to pick up a copy of “The Book of the Beloved” for a wonderful story about history, ghosts, the south, and love. It’s the perfect book to read any time of the year.
To see other reviews of Carolyn’s books go to Carolyn’s section in my blog.