Fun Summer Reading: Specter, by John Desjarlais

(photo: Register Files)

I discovered John Desjarlais' writing in 2009, when Bleeder landed in my reading pile. The sequel, Viper, was just as riveting, and Desjarlais' latest mystery, Specter, continues the suspense in the story.

You don't have to read the first two to enjoy Specter, though if you like nail-biters, you'll enjoy them. This book is as much mystery as it is an examination of the supernatural.

It begins simply enough: Selena De La Cruz and Reed Stubblefield are getting married. There's enough with that alone to fill a book: planning the nuptials is its own set of dramatic encounters, misunderstandings, and colorful dialogues.

After drying her hands, Selena kissed her godmother goodnight, saying she needed extra sleep to be fresh for the morning meeting. Before turning in, Selena poured herself some milk with a splash of coffee and phoned Reed at the appointed hour.

“So much for wedding errands tomorrow,” she told him. “Madrina made an appointment for me without telling me.”

“Don’t tell me: the cousin who’s been bugging you to be the photographer?”

“No. With the Cardinal. You know, the Archbishop of Chicago.”

“You’re kidding.”

“I wish I were. They go way back. They were childhood friends, or something. Madrina’s never really told me.”

“So what’s it about?”

“She wouldn’t say. Did she mention anything about this to you the last time you were here?”

“Not at all.”

“She said it was about something she was ‘uncomfortable’ with.” “Oh, then it’s obvious,” Reed said.

“I know,” Selena said with an exasperated puff of breath. 

“We’re incompatible. I’m North Side, you’re South Side. I’m Cubs, you’re White Sox.”

“Oh, puh-leeze.”

“My brother Dan might add: I’m publicly-employed pro-union Democrat for gun control and you’re small-business-owner Republican with a gun.”

“Are you finished?”

“I’m not sure. Do you squeeze the toothpaste in the middle or from the end? And bathroom tissue: over or under? We never discussed this in counseling. I’m worried,” he chuckled.

“C’mon, be serious.”

“OK. I drive a Volvo, you drive a Charger. That says a lot.”

She laughed. “You’re not helping. Look, my godmother is very traditional and is having a hard time thinking of me as Selena Perez De La Cruz Stubblefield.”

“You didn’t tell her I agreed that taking my name wasn’t necessary?”

“That’s not it. She promised my parents that she’d make sure I’d marry a good Catholic Mexican boy my own age.”

“Catholic. Mexican. Same age. Three strikes. I’m out.”

“Why should that matter?” Selena said, twirling her hand in the air. “My Papá was older than Mami when they married. I think my Madrina has forgotten that.”

“Or she remembers and she doesn’t want the same for you.”

Selena sighed. “The age issue wouldn’t matter if she could see what a drop-dead good looker you are.”

He paused and she knew he was blushing.

“Selena, why are we assuming Madrina called the Cardinal?” Reed asked. “What if the Cardinal called Madrina, looking for you?”

“See? You’re changing the subject.”

“I thought the subject was guessing why your godmother wants you to visit the Cardinal. I’m saying that it’s just as plausible that he called her, not the other way around.” 

When the Archbishop calls Selena in to meet with him, she assumes it's because her godmother has been meddling to get her to have her wedding take place in the cathedral. As it turns Enter the real drama in the story.

The layers of drama add together for a plotline that I doubt you'd find in the tabloids. Selena starts to dig into the past...and it's painful on a personal level, not to mention the trouble it stirs. Desjarlais manages to deal with wedding planning issues, ghosts, and murder mysteries in a way that makes sense, even outside the storyline of the book.

I'd like to tell you more, but this is the kind of book that has spoilers from about chapter 3 and on through the book. If I tell you too much, I'll ruin the book for you.

So I'll give it my hearty approval and encourage you to enjoy it this summer (or whenever you can get it)!