How much does our subconscious control our reality? Do our fears and our regrets shape what we see and experience?
In “The Shape of Night,” Tess Gerritsen most definitely does not answer those questions. When food writer Ava Collette rents an historic mansion on the coast in Maine, she is fleeing a horrible decision she made that resulted in tragedy. She leaves her friends and her family to grapple with her feelings of guilt, and she also needs to finish her new cookbook, which is behind schedule.
When she first sees the house, it seems forbidding and unwelcoming. But as soon as she steps inside, she feels as if she is at home, as if the house is welcoming her. And when she smells the ocean from inside the house, it heralds the arrival of the ghost of Captain Jeremiah Brodie, the man who built Brodie’s Watch, and who lived there briefly until his death at sea cut his life short too soon.
Is the Captain, who is by turns loving and cruel, real or just a figment of Ava’s alcohol-laced reality? What does Ava deserve after her horrible betrayal? The Captain tells her, “Here in my house, what you seek is what you will find.” Is she getting what she believes she deserves?
She begins to wonder about the last occupant of the home, who vacated the house before the end of the lease and left personal items in the home. Why did she leave so suddenly? Why isn’t she answering emails asking her about how to return her Hermès scarf and her well-used cookbook that was a gift from her grandmother? When Ava tries to track her down, what she finds out is more troubling.
There are also the deaths that happened in the house, some from natural causes, some not. Is the ghost of the Captain killing women, or is something disturbing happening among the living?
Gerritsen keeps up the suspense and the romance almost to the end. “The Shape of Night” is not just a mystery, it’s also quite sensual in parts, as Ava and the ghost interact. Is it because of the ghost that Ava isn’t attracted to Ben, the local doctor? His medical pedigree in town goes back two generations to his grandfather and father, both local doctors. Why doesn’t Ava answer her phone when her sister repeatedly calls? Why have only women lived in the mansion for over a century?
And the biggest mystery, perhaps, is: Is there really a ghost? Gerritsen keeps us guessing throughout the book. In fact, we end the book wondering whether there was a ghost, some kind of demon, or just the feverish imagination of a very guilty, often drunk woman.
“The Shape of Night” is a lovely ghost story as well as a touching novel about guilt and the importance of forgiving ourselves for mistakes. In a way, it’s also a cautionary tale of the importance of sobriety. The story has it all — a murder mystery, supernatural elements, romantic nights (with the ghost!), and a brave cat.
First published at Bookreporter.com.