Novel: Wide Open by Deborah Coates

Deborah Coates’ first novel Wide Open (2012) is a compelling and atmospheric rural fantasy set in South Dakota, and it’s a wonderful combination of mystery, fantasy, romance, and attitude — this last provided primarily by the novel’s tough as nails protagonist Hallie Michaels. In the wake of her sister’s alleged suicide, Hallie returns to her home town after serving in Afghanistan, where a near-death experience has left her with the ability to see ghosts. An already emotional homecoming intensifies when Hallie starts to sense — with the help of old friends and a new deputy sheriff, Boyd Davies — that her sister’s death was no suicide. She sets out to solve the mystery, gradually learning there’s more magic to the wide-open plains of her youth than her own supernatural situation.

The rare upper midwest setting is a refreshing and authentic one, given a mysterious and haunting ambiance. Coates totally nails that sense of returning home to a small town after a long absence — that feeling of utter familiarity, coupled with a bizarre sense of no longer belonging. It struck a particularly strong chord for me. The setting serves as a vivid backdrop for an intriguing mystery plot populated by likable, convincing characters. Coates’ prose is crisp, spare, and powerful, and moves the story along briskly. A terrific debut; definitely looking forward to seeing more!

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