Second Look: WHAT THE DEAD WANT by Norah Olson

I’ve been stuck in a downward spiral of reading a manuscript, working a desk job, and being mentally exhausted.  Needless to say, it’s taken me four weeks to actually read a book I can talk about.  (And honestly, I bought this book the day it came out because I was so excited about it.)

But, without further ado…


Norah Olson’s What the Dead Want
Katherine Tegen Books, 2016

What It’s About:

Six years after her mother’s mysterious disappearance, Gretchen receives a phone call from her Aunt Esther, whom she didn’t know existed.  Esther has called to tell Gretchen that she’s inheriting the Axton Mansion and needs to come to Mayville (quite the drive from Manhattan), New York immediately.  (PS: Did I mention that Esther is one of her mother’s relatives?)  So of course, Gretchen, who’s father is half-way across the world in a remote village saving people, jumps at the chance.

What Gretchen doesn’t know, but quickly finds out, is that there’s a reason Esther wanted her to come “clean up the house” — and it’s not just because of the centuries old litter that’s overtaken the mansion.  Gretchen, like Esther and her mother, Mona, have a family mission: to help the ghosts of the cursed land move on into the afterlife.

With the help of two new friends — Hawk and Hope — Gretchen is able to continue her mother’s work and finally put an end to the horror.

Disclaimer: This is a quasi-historical fiction piece that’s based in the present, but has a lot do to with the past.  The past just happens to be Civil War era, where lynchings were common in places like Mayville, NY.  So, if you’re not a fan of history, this might not be the right read for you.

What I Thought:

I liked it.  But I also love ghost stories that are rooted in historical fact.  And I find something fascinating about the era of the Civil War and the Underground Railroad.

More than that, it was just a really well-told story.  The plot was consistent and flowed well.  The characters were believable and likable.  The ending was satisfying.  And, there were enough twists (even if they were minor) that kept me interested.

I’m not going to talk too much about the plot, because this was a very plot-driven novel.  And, I really don’t want to spoil you.  Olson added enough to keep the reader guessing, but also filled in any gaps.  It was a really enjoyable read, based on the plot alone.

I liked the characters.  Gretchen, especially, was well-developed.  She was likable and relatable.  She’s hit with a whole lot of crazy (but true!) and deals with it appropriately.  She has her freak out moments, then climbs back on the saddle and buckles down to get shit done.

Of course, this wouldn’t be a story without her gay best friend who eventually comes “to the rescue” to help toward the end of the novel.  (I kind of loved Simon for immediately going to be with her.)

The Ending: I’m going to (slightly) spoil you.  This had a satisfying ending that tied up all loose ends and left no room for a cliffhanger/continuation.  However, I wouldn’t be all that disappointed if Olson went on to write a companion novel with the same characters, but a new plot…


9/10 Stars

Now I get to read one of the 4 ARCs I have!


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