The Restorer (Graveyard Queen)
While I often talk about the importance of worldbuilding, it’s not often that I run across a novel that prompts me to wax rhapsodic about its atmosphere. The ability to evoke the feeling that goes with a location isn’t one that I run across all the time. The Restorer is one of those rare stories.
Amelia Gray has followed in her father’s footsteps to become a cemetery restorer, but she also takes after him in her ability to see ghosts. But there are rules for people like them: “Never acknowledge the dead. Never stray far from hallowed ground. Never get close to the haunted. Never, ever tempt fate.” Amelia spends years following these rules to the letter, but her job at Oak Grove cemetery will test her resolve to its utmost.
Police detective John Devlin approaches Amelia to help with a murder investigation, one in which the body has been dumped in Oak Grove. Amelia feels an instant attraction to him, but there’s a very big problem—Devlin is haunted by two ghosts. The woman and young girl follow him wherever he goes.
Amelia thinks that there may be clues about the murder in the symbolism on the headstones, and she’s the most knowledgeable person in the area on this subject. But now Amelia herself may be on the killer’s radar, and the presence of the dead is growing stronger by the day.
This novel combines quite a few genres: mystery, suspense, romance and paranormal happenings all mix together into a surprisingly coherent whole. Uppermost is the suspense, as Stevens slowly builds the tension with visits to overgrown graveyards and musty document archives. The novel reminds me a lot of a movie I saw as a teenager called Lady in White. The movie doesn’t go for cheap scares and gore, but instead takes the time to establish the creeping dread of a persistent haunting. And The Restorer does the same thing.
There is some horror to be found, though. There are dead bodies of varying degrees of decomposition (although not described in graphic detail), up to and including skeletons in lonely graves. But again, the author keeps the details light and focuses instead on the circumstances around the bodies. It keeps the story from getting gruesome and turning off those readers who don’t like horror, like me.
In fact, the novel excels at establishing a sense of atmosphere. The book is set in the South, and Stevens does a wonderful job of evoking the sense of history and location. The heavy use of cemeteries lets the reader feel the weight of long years, but not in an oppressive way. Rather, the novel exudes the sleepy and peaceful atmosphere that you would find in a well kept graveyard filled with old monuments—the kind of feeling that Amelia experiences as the golden late afternoon sun illuminates a group of stone angels.
I found myself really liking Amelia. She has an unusual job that she truly loves, and as a background item, she blogs about cemeteries and old gravestones. She doesn’t sink into her work, but instead maintains friendships and goes out with those she’s close to. As a main character, she’s fairly well balanced. In fact, aside from the whole issue of seeing ghosts, her only quirk is her attraction to Devlin.
And that’s the only thing that felt just a bit out of balance in this novel. Her attraction to Devlin is so strong and so immediate that I thought we’d find out that there was a supernatural or magical compulsion, or at least something fishy going on. And indeed there is something odd about Devlin (beyond the ghosts), but it’s not explored. I know that this novel is the first of a trilogy, but I feel that Stevens should have given a bit more info in this book to give readers a hook into the mysteries. I do hope that we find out more in subsequent books.
But I will say this: I got this book after reading the first chapter online and wasn’t at all disappointed. After reading it, I found that I was curious about the convoluted symbolism of gravestones. And that’s saying something, because as a rule, I don’t like cemeteries. (Ask me sometime about the creepy one south of town that I won’t set foot in.) When a novel gets you interested in something that you’d never consider investigating, you know you’ve got a winner on your hands.
The Restorer weaves a compelling mystery, redolent with Southern atmosphere and the gentle sadness of a shadowed graveyard at sundown. I can’t wait for November when The Kingdom comes out. Get in on this series now and you won’t be disappointed.
This review appeared on Owlcat Mountain on May 19, 2011.
Series: The Graveyard Queen
Page Count: 384
Publication Date: April 19, 2011
Acquired: Provided by the publisher as an e-ARC through NetGalley
Read an excerpt