Title: The House on Tradd Street
Author: Karen White
Narrator: Aimée Bruneau
Publication date: 2008
Print length: 329 pages
Audio length: 13 hours, 10 minute
Genre: Contemporary fiction
Practical Melanie Middleton hates to admit she can see ghosts. But she’s going to have to accept it. An old man she recently met has died, leaving her his historic Tradd Street home, complete with housekeeper, dog, and a family of ghosts anxious to tell her their secrets.
Enter Jack Trenholm, a gorgeous writer obsessed with unsolved mysteries. He has reason to believe that diamonds from the Confederate Treasury are hidden in the house. So he turns the charm on with Melanie, only to discover he’s the smitten one…
It turns out Jack’s search has caught the attention of a malevolent ghost. Now, Jack and Melanie must unravel a mystery of passion, heartbreak, and even murder.
This contemporary novel might not have been an obvious choice for me, but since it was my book group’s pick for May, I felt compelled to give it a try. And while it held my attention, there were a few too many eye-rolling moments for me to feel that it was anything more than just an okay read.
In The House on Tradd Street, main character Melanie is a realtor who specializes in Charleston’s historical homes, although she secretly hates them with a passion. She may tell herself it’s because they’re all money pits, but in reality, as a woman who’s spent her whole life seeing and hearing ghosts, these old homes are just too fraught with supernatural encounters for her to ever be able to appreciate them.
As the book opens, a man she thinks is a potential seller ends up leaving her his beautiful but utterly decrepit home, as well a letter imploring her to find out the truth about his mother’s disappearance over 70 years earlier. The local gossip would have it that she ran off with another man, but her son never believed the story, and his dying wish is for his mother’s reputation to be cleared.
To complicate matters, a bestselling author who specializes in historical mysteries asks to partner with Melanie, offering to assist with the house restoration project in exchange for access to the house’s attic and stashes of old records. Stuck with an unwanted house and ghosts who don’t want to leave her alone, Melanie reluctantly agrees.
There are multiple mysteries to solve — what really happened to Louisa Vanderhorst? Are there really diamonds hidden somewhere in the house? What does the menacing spirit that haunts the house want from Melanie? And who will she choose in the evolving love triangle?
Sorry, that one’s not actually a mystery… it’s obvious from the start which way the love story piece of the plot is going. As is so much else of the novel, unfortunately.
The answer to Louisa’s disappearance is pretty clear from the get-go, with only the details needing to be spelled out. The writing makes it fairly obvious early on that the commonly accepted explanation isn’t the true answer. It’s amazing to me that anyone buys it, and it certainly takes Melanie long enough to clue into the truth.
I was caught up enough in the story to just go with it most of the time, and the investigation into the house’s mysteries includes some clever clues and interesting answers. Overall, though, the plot is on the hokey/cheesy side, and the book — written in 2008 — hasn’t aged particularly well.
Some of the datedness probably can’t be helped. If an author is going to include references to technology in a novel, chances are that it’ll feel out of date within a few years. Here, between mentioning her IPod and Blackberry and hanging up a call by “closing” her cell phone, as well as the office secretary handing Melanie a stack of message slips, it’s clear that the characters are not living in the same tech world as we are. Again, that’s not usually a problem for me, but maybe because these kind of things happen a lot in this book, it was distracting.
More problematic are some of the social/interpersonal descriptions that are not only dated, but also highly cringe-worthy. Jack, the main love interest, is such an alpha male, asserting his dominance in all sorts of irritating ways, including insisting on using a nickname for Melanie despite being asked repeatedly not too. I think his arrogance is supposed to make him sexy and roguish, but to me, he just comes off as an ass.
There’s also an awful moment where the main character mentions that she’s going to donate some of the proceeds of her inheritance to the Daughters of the Confederacy (because — spoiler!! — the diamonds were originally from Jefferson Davis, and his intent was apparently to use them to support war widows and orphans). I’m sorry, but I don’t care what the intent was… supporting anything connected to the Confederacy just is not a good look. Ick.
On top of this, Melanie is a bad friend. Her best friend is a historical preservation professor at the College of Charleston (convenient!), but in every single scene with her, Melanie thinks about how terribly she dresses or disparages her in other ways. It’s awful. Ick again.
As I said, this was mostly a quick read, and it held my attention — but the annoying and/or problematic and/or predictable aspects of the story keep this from being a great reading experience. There are more books in the series (presumably more stories about haunted houses), but I don’t intend to continue.