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Posted by Dan Smyth On Friday, April 01, 2011

Hypothetical situation for you. You live in the US, and one day you get a phone call from a doctor that tells you your father has just suffered two major heart attacks, possibly received some brain damage as a result, and that he has consequently sunk into a deep coma. Naturally you rush to his bedside, forget about your life entirely, and fret over every blink and shift until finally, several weeks later, he wakes up. When he does, he starts rambling about how he's traveled forty years into the future to a little village in South America where he made enemies with some bad ghosties, and that he needs to get back there to figure things out. Then he leaps out of the bed, grabs the lamp, and proceeds to smash it into the wall, stating that one of the ghosties has come to get him. Again, naturally, the doctors at the hospital throw him in the psych ward.

What do you do?

A) Let the docs take care of him because that's what they're there for;

B) Break him out of the place because naturally he's telling you the truth;

or C) Write a note, slit your wrists, and hope someone finds you fast enough that you'll end up in the same loony bin as him.

If you answered A, you might be able to consider yourself normal.

If you answered B, you will completely understand this novel.

On the other hand, if you answered C...well, I'm not going to go there, but you probably need to talk to someone. Preferably, a professional.

ESPERANZA is the first book in a projected trilogy called The Hungry Ghosts that deals with...well...hungry ghosts. Kind of. This is MacGregor's first book for Tor, but by no means her first book. She's been writing mysteries, thrillers, and astrology books since the early 80's and has about thirty all told to her name.

The story, what there is, revolves around three main characters: Tess, an FBI agent from 2008; Ian, a college professor from 1968; and Dominica, a brujo, or hungry ghost leader that resides in the town of Esperanza. Page time is split between the three. Tess and Ian are trying to figure out what’s going on, why they ended up in Esperanza together, and after some craziness, how to get back to each other and the city in the same time. Yes, this is a time travel story too. Sort of. Dominica just wants them both dead. Plain and simple.

From all accounts, this is purported to be a supernatural thriller, though I can’t say that I exactly know why, for there were few thrills to be found. Supernatural, yes--it’s about ghosts--but the decided lack of tension or suspense made it difficult to ever really get into the book. There’s a whole lot of information, most of which seems to flow quite freely between the several characters without anything actually being said about it. People just kinda know it. Or feel it. Or sense it. You know? [[nudge, nudge]]

The characters are fairly lackluster; development arcs, non-existent. Prose is good, but that’s to be expected with how many books MacGregor has written. There’s also definitely a lot that happens in the book. There’s some good progression from one scene to the next. The two human characters learn things and then move on, trying to figure it all out as the brujos come after them time and time again.

The biggest problem, as evidenced by my intro, is that characters that are supposedly living in this world (our world, the real world and not some variant of it) react and act in ways that are incredibly inconsistent with reality and just happen to coincide greatly with moving the plot along its path. The example I used was quite possibly the most grievous of these infractions, but as these instances cropped up again and again I lost the ability to suspend my disbelief and ultimately lost interest altogether. So when the whiz-bang finish came with flamethrowers, and snipers, and grenades, and people dying left and right, I was just flowing right over those words to get to the final ending. I’d had enough of the brujos.

I’ve been told by people I trust to not expect too much from books labeled as “thrillers”. This book is a perfect example to me of why that statement might be true.

My favorite line of the book though, cannot be missed: "He saw a tiny opening, dived, struck the ground, rolled, leaped up, and raced away from them." I mean, seriously, who does this? Well...okay. Captain Kirk. You win.

Recommended age: 16 plus
Language: Some. Fairly frequent.
Violence: A few people “bleed out” in disturbing ways, and there’s the war scene at the end. So, yeah, it's there.
Sex: A couple scenes that pass by pretty quickly.

Trish MacGregor's Website


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