Night Journey

by: Goldie Browning

Ghostaphobe Emma Fuller and her husband, Zan (Alexander) head out for a wedding weekend with his dysfunctional family at a haunted hotel in the Ozarks. 

After that, everything goes wrong!

Part ghost story, part time travel, part horror story and part romance, Night Journey's fictional events take place in an actual, actually haunted, hotel. (Where, parenthetically, I will have to go stay sometime!)

Emma and Zan are anxious to make a baby, and a key plot element is that they are signed up for fertility treatments immediately after their trip. Part of the preparation for this treatment included Emma's thoughtless signing of an Advanced Healthcare Directive, and the more thoughtful organ donor promise, never dreaming that either would be used to advance the interests of a wicked witch of a hospital administrator.

Suffice it to say, Emma meets with an accident(?) while at the hotel, and ends up in a coma. But even before this, Browning has introduced threads of perhaps a dozen subplots, past and present, which all weave together to create what ends up being a surprisingly delightful tale for those long winter's nights reads.

By the time Emma creeps into a secret passageway where she is gravely injured, we already know that the hotel is haunted by both kindly and malign spirits - including, oddly, Emma herself. (There's the time travel element!)

Meanwhile, back in the 30s when the hotel was a sanitorium/cancer hospital, run by the shady Dr. Baker, Ivy Turner is desperately trying to escape the attentions of the moustache-twirling style villain, Jared Covington. But her Papa is anxious to seal the deal, as Jared promises to revive the finances of his failing business. Papa decides it might be wise to take Ivy away to visit her mother, who is confined in the evil Dr. Baker's hospital for her supposed cancer, after which she will then spend some time with her father's much younger widowed sister, Tyme.

While visiting with Tyme, both Ivy and her Aunt fall in love with a pair of good old boys... well, you get the idea. There's a lot going on, and Browning tells her story with a straight-forward, not-quite-tongue-in-cheek style that still supposes a lot of humor. She positively wallows in the slang of the 30s, and never uses a 25-cent word when a 5-cent one will do. That is to say, this prose flows effortlessly and enjoyably. Browning's objective isn't to ponder life's big questions (though she does have a personal interest in organ donation, and she does deal honestly and sympathetically with life, death, illness and love), but to tell a good, scary, heroes and villains story where it all ends up as it should at the finish.

And interspersed with all the ghostly visitations, romantic derring-do, Victorian locking-away of the errant daughter, and evil machinations of two positively hateful medical women, Browning introduces us to the Crescent Hotel and its actual ghosts. As part of their stay, the wedding party is treated to a guided tour, taking us to the hotels most-haunted rooms, and even into the basement which once housed the hospital morgue. Today, of course, the hotel is a slice of Victorian delight, complete with period furniture, picture-perfect grounds, and - in a town like Eureka Springs - a spa, of course.

I don't know if this type of tale is Browning's genre of choice, but she has a clear, clean, never-gory, and only slightly scary voice that's a perfect compliment to a fire in the fireplace, your beverage of choice, and a single reading lamp glowing against the shadows of a chill winter night.


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