Otter Creek Press / 532 pages / (September 1, 1998)
Call it “Creature Feature,” “Shock Theater,” or “Fantasmic Feature” — every city had one. Weekends would find every kid around glued to the television, thrilling to the cinematic treats offered by their local “ghost host.” Sometimes they were scary, sometimes corny, mostly they were just fun, but what ghost story isn’t? As we got older, the movies got less frightening, but, even now, who can resist Topper or 13 Ghosts or Blithe Spirit? The promise of a haunted house and troublesome ghosts is just too tempting to pass up. And so is William Hill’s latest novel, California Ghosting.
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Ghostal Shores is that best of all entertainment packages: a haunted luxury hotel. Overlooking the wild Pacific, the resort is staffed with only the best — living and dead — to cater to every whim of some rather whimsical guests. The setting, the service, and the ghosts, have proven the perfect combination, drawing visitors from around the world. It’s an almost idyllic spot where life and afterlife can live in harmony. Almost.
Someone has murdered one of the founders. His lovely, feisty attorney Angela and his skittish heir Blasing hurry to the hotel, intending to find out who killed Mac and why. Of course, it isn’t going to be that easy. Suspects are going to be waiting in the shadows around every corner. Unknown, uninvited ghosts are literally coming out of the woodwork, ready to cause trouble. And, of course, romantic sparks are going to fly. But every reader knows that, heading into a ghost story.
Hill’s Ghostal Shores is the hotel every theme park (except possibly Heritage U.S.A) in the world would kill to own. If it really existed, the waiting list would stretch for years, including my name wedged in there somewhere. But, the remaining founder has big changes in mind. Changes that don’t sit well with the 30 ghosts who inhabit the resort and are working members of the staff.
Is it these changes that necessitated Mac’s death? Or did the murder have something to do with the not-so-friendly ghosts who appear to be pouring into the hotel? Angela and Blasing are determined to find the killer and put a stop to the changes before anyone else gets hurt. In order to do that, they are going to have to figure out how to survive long enough to uncover the truth.
Hill’s novel reads like a movie — a criticism often levelled at Stephen King. But, is there anything wrong with that? Most of King’s work has been turned into films; it isn’t a stretch of the imagination to picture the coming attractions for California Ghosting. Hill doesn’t strike at the heart of hypocrisy, racism, or perversion. No, there were no lingering questions that played through my mind after I finished the last page. We can even anticipate a few of the incidents. What true horror fan can’t?
California Ghosting doesn’t provide the answers this world is seeking. Is it supposed to? I didn’t close the cover with a new resolve to stamp out world hunger, but I did have an overwhelming urge to see if The Ghost And Mrs. Muir was in at the local video shop. That’ll do.