"When Ghosts Come Home" | Reviewed by Chris Stuckenschneider
I’ve been a Wiley Cash fan since his debut novel “The Last Ballad.” His next two books were equally addictive, “This Dark Road to Mercy,” and “A Land More Kind Than Home.”
Now Cash is back with the story of Winston Barnes, a devoted small town sheriff living in an island community off the coast of North Carolina. It’s the mid-1980s and Winston is nearing retirement but isn’t ready to turn in his badge. His wife Marie has cancer and they depend on his paycheck and the insurance he carries.
Winston has doubts about himself too. Is he past his prime? Yet he forges ahead determined get re-elected. He’s up against stiff competition with Bradley Frye, a moneyed, unscrupulous developer who’s clearly racist.
When a plane makes a forced, unexpected landing on the island, and a Black man’s body is found alongside the runway, Winston has a case to solve that might tip the election in his favor. If he can find the murderer who shot Rodney Bellamay, a new father, and unravel the mystery of the plane and its possible contents it will be a feather in his cap.
While Winston attempts to crack the case, racial pressure mounts in Oak Island, the father of the murdered man a teacher who had “…served as the face of integration in the county schools.” Fyre is helping spread a rumor that Bellamy was involved in drugs believed to be on the plane. Winston has his hands full keeping the town troublemakers in check as they terrorize Blacks in the community, one of the group even firing a gun through the window of Bellamay's widow's home.
The sheriff has additional familial worries with his daughter Colleen. She makes an unexpected trip home from Dallas to stay with Winston and Marie. Since losing a child she’s been distraught, and they’re both very concerned about her. As it turns out, Colleen becomes an asset to Winston in the investigation.
“When Ghosts Come Home” is a good read, atmospheric and peopled with believable small-town characters, pitting good-hearted Winston against the good ol’ boys of Oak Island. I was aghast at the ending, however, Cash positively pulling the rug out from under me.