Can ghosts die? What turns a ghost into one of the fabled hauntings that eventually become legend? That is the core of what “Pretty Mary’s All In A Row” is about. 5 Mary’s of legend—Bloody Mary, Mary Quite Contrary, Mari Lwyd (who I didn’t know), Mary Mack, and Resurrection Mary—all occupy the same house, going out each night to haunt and return with the fear of their marks in order to feed and sustain their ethereal existence. The problem? 3 of the 5 Mary’s can’t seem to scare anyone anymore—maybe because they aren’t actually ghosts, but I’ll get to that later, and no, it’s not a spoiler. As they begin to fade, something waits in the dark to take them away forever. Basically: an even badder ghost/demon waits in the dark, terrorizing the ghosts themselves. So much haunting, so little time.
When I first started reading this novella, I realized I didn’t know enough about half the Mary’s in it, so I felt like I was missing something that would make this read a bit creepier, which is what I was going for. I love good ghost stories that make my skin crawl! But outside of getting Mary Mack’s nursery rhyme stuck in my head for the next 18 years, there isn’t really a ghost story or haunting attached to Mack, Lwyd, or Mary Quite Contrary. They are nursery rhymes and practices of old that have murky origins at best, but none of my research could find a haunting attached to it. But if I missed something, please let me know! What Kriste attributes to the other Mary’s is pretty interesting and certainly has a higher level of creep factor than the original rhymes—especially Mary Mack!—but the only two “real” ghosts are Bloody Mary and Resurrection Mary—or Rhee, who is our main character.
Kriste’s prose in this novella is incredible. It’s so lovely and heartbreaking that, while the ghosts never scared me or unsettled me the way I wanted, Rhee becomes so tragic and touching that I had all the feels for her and David throughout this short read. All the ghosts are tragic figures, but as we are presented the tale through a first person perspective via Rhee, she became the most heartrending. The stars of this tale are not the hauntings, or even the monster lurking in the shadows waiting for the Mary’s, but the longing and loneliness that Rhee presents with her relationships with David and Red. If you are looking for a pretty light paranormal read that has some eerie imagery but not an overabundance of it, then this novella may scratch that itch for you. But if you are looking for a more traditional ghost story in that you want to be scared and the ghosts feel more like, well, ghosts and less like people you can’t touch, then this may not be the haunting tale you’re looking for.
Ultimately that was the thing that disappointed me about this otherwise well written and lovely read. I have never read Kriste’s full-length novels, but I just may because I really did love the amazing imagery and prose Kriste uses throughout the novella. But I wanted something that was going to leave goosebumps on my skin at night before going to bed. For a bunch of ghosts who feed off fear, very little scaring was going on. Most of the ghosts just seem to be hanging out with friends; they felt like clients the Mary’s visited, not mortals having the crap scared out of them. There is all this potential for the story with this mysterious shadow figure and the various Mary’s that never got explored and it just felt like a missed opportunity that, as the book progressed, became all the more evident. It had such a strong start with all these threads being presented to the reader, but it kind of loses focus and the story never got much better than the beginning. Which is, again, too bad because the writing is perfect for this kind of story. There was just too much going on that didn’t get enough page time due to the short length which made characters feel rather flat when they didn’t need to be. I don’t think there’s enough here for a full novel, but cutting some of the emphasis on Rhee and David to focus on the hauntings or the mysterious shadow figure may have helped.
This interesting take on hauntings of legend is brimming with promises and cool concepts—that never really delivered for me. Again, the writing is great and that cover is just the best there is, but I needed those cool concepts and interesting, tragic characters to be explored more. I needed more actual haunting to satisfy that hair-raising factor I was hoping for. But, like I mentioned, if you want something that is a bit light on the paranormal and scary side, this might be your perfect ghost story novella! I know I’ll definitely be keeping my eye on the author, though, for she is quite the talented writer. But this particular story is a very strong 3.25 stars for me, and thanks to the publisher for providing me a copy for review!
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