Realtor Melanie Middleton meets with an elderly Charleston resident hoping to secure a listing for his home, a once-glorious but now dilapidated mansion on Tradd Street. What she gets, instead, is the house itself — when Nevin Vanderhorst suddenly passes away, leaving the estate to she and her estranged father.
Under the conditions of Vanderhorst’s will, Melanie must live in the home for a year and work on its restoration before she’ll be permitted to sell it — all that she desperately wants to do. A strange mystery has surrounded the home, which is haunted by the ghosts of the Vanderhorsts’ past — literally. Melanie’s supernatural abilities allow her to see but not communicate with the specters who currently reside at 55 Tradd Street and, persuant to Vanderhorst’s will, Melanie sets about trying to solve the mystery of why, in the 1930s, Nevin’s mother Louisa disappeared from Charleston, never to return. Even seven decades later, Vanderhorst’s pain over his mother’s “abandonment” is palpable; he wants Melanie to discover the truth about why she left and hopefully clear her name.
So she moves in, sets up shop — and quickly gets a call from Jack Trenholm, a local historian and famed author with an interest in the Tradd Street home. As Jack has fallen from grace in the historical community, he’s desperate to find a new, compelling true-to-life tale in the South — and he thinks the Vanderhorst mystery just might be it. Of course, he’s slick and handsome and charismatic . . . all qualities Melanie, single at 39, can’t help but notice. After apparitions begin to appear, the home is vandalized and the overall atmosphere turns creepy, Jack moves into the house with Melanie to help keep an eye on things — and look tirelessly for clues that could help solve the Vanderhorst mystery.
Karen White’s The House On Tradd Street functions well on several levels: it’s a mystery, ghost story, romance, family drama and slice of Southern life all wrapped up in one incredibly well-written package. White’s Charleston is alive and breathing, infused with the colorful characters you would expect to find in the South without resorting to caricatures or stereotypes. In addition to Melanie and Jack, Melanie’s father plays a crucial role in this tale — as does her mother, a woman whose absence in her life has accomplished far more than her presence. Melanie’s friends help with the restorations and add another dimension to the story, showing that beneath Melanie’s calm exterior is a frazzled woman still looking for her own version of “home.”
At several points in the novel, I started to sweat a little bit — mostly because every novel has a tipping point. The prevalent themes in a story are all fine and good when woven seamlessly through a story and not overdone, beating readers to death with the same concepts and ideas. But when we get the same whining and griping page after page, all I want to do is slam a book shut and go back to eating Peeps and making scarves! The House On Tradd Street could easily have gotten cheesy, ridiculous or campy, but White successfully kept it from going down that route. I was fascinated by all of the historical details and honestly had no clue what the clues were saying until it was all spelled out for me . . . probably because I was so interested in the story, I didn’t want to “spoil” it for myself by trying to guess!
The novel certainly has a romantic theme to it — or, should I say, some serious romantic tension. It’s obvious from the get-go Melanie and Jack have a kind of easy chemistry, complete with the witty banter and almost-kissing I adore in a good love story! I’m thankful White didn’t make that cheesy, either; there was just enough sizzle to keep me grinning, but she never resorted to cliches or gag-inducing dialogue.
I did roll my eyes a bit at Melanie’s constant slams over her mother leaving the family when she was a kid — I mean, you’re almost 40 years old . . . I know some wounds take a while to heal, but are you really going to carry that anger around like a tarnished trophy for the rest of your life? But this back story sets up the next of White’s novels following Melanie, The Girl On Legare Street, and I’m definitely eager to see what the story is there!
A multi-dimensional, interesting novel about family, forgiveness and moving forward — with the people we love and those we don’t love so much! Fans of paranormal fiction will be interested in the shiver-inducing ghost stories but if, like me, you get scared by someone just saying your name at a low volume in a dark room, none of the spooky qualities of the work kept me up at night. The romance and family dynamics tugged at my heart, too, and left me wondering what will become of all of 55 Tradd Street’s inhabitants. And while the novel could function fine as a stand-alone, I’m eager to begin the next in the series!
4.5 out of 5!