Premise: Sergeant Hallie Michaels has come back home to South Dakota on leave from Afghanistan for her sister’s funeral. Everyone is telling her that Dell committed suicide, but Hallie knows better. Ever since Hallie died and was revived while on duty, she has been able to see ghosts. She knows there is more to the story because Dell’s ghost, and the ghosts of other women, are trying to tell her something about their mysterious deaths.
The new deputy sheriff, Boyd Davies, is willing to help her, but he has some secrets of his own that he learns only Hallie might understand. With only ten days of leave to figure out how Dell and these other women have died, Hallie is rushing to find answers, but with everyone in the small town supporting Martin Weber’s innovative new energy company, the truth is being hidden from view.
Before she knows it, Hallie is getting threatened, beaten up, fires are breaking out, and strange weather patterns are becoming more frequent. Hallie will need all the help she can get from her friends, Boyd, and the ghosts constantly following her in order to fight an enemy wielding a power she can’t hope to defeat.
Themes: Seeing ghosts the way Hallie does could be seen as a metaphor for experiencing death in real life. When Hallie interacts with Dell and the other ghosts, it speaks volumes about the way we manifest our feelings when someone close to us dies. We try to understand why things happen and like to believe the lost opportunities for unspoken things can be redeemed. We all cope with death in different ways, and Wide Open gives us glimpses into the ways different people do so.
Wide Open is also a story about coming home. When we are gone from a place where we grew up, people change, places change, and new people are thrown into the picture. Relationships with friends can sometimes pick up where they left off, but sometimes we are changed in ways while we are apart that can’t be undone and those relationships now contain a dissonance that was not there before.
Pros: The characters in Wide Open are spectacular. They speak realistically and interact with each other in a truly human way. The magic is interesting and powerful and perfectly vague, which means it is just enough explanation to be cool without attempting to over-explain things that wouldn’t have made any sense anyway. Every contact with the ghosts makes you feel like they are right there with you, wandering aimlessly and running cold chills up your arms, at least until they demand your attention with something they want to tell you.
Cons: Hallie curses more than any character I can think of. I don’t know if it was to make her seem like a stronger female character, but it only made me want to wash her mouth out with soap. You don’t have to swear in order to sound tough, and it kept me from fully enjoying the story. Also, it seemed to take too long to arrive at the climax. The last fifty pages or so contained so much preparation for battle that it didn’t seem like a realistic amount before the real action kicked in.
Recommendations: I went into reading Wide Open not knowing much about it and with few expectations, but I was greatly rewarded from the second I first cracked it open. If you are willing to look past how much the protagonist curses, Wide Open is a fun read that is a fresh take on urban fantasy with a little bit of romance and a lot of mystery, magic, and action. The freezing cold that comes with the ghosts surrounding Hallie will chill you with every contact. This is a solid first novel from Deborah Coats, whose future is wide with promise.