Virginia Blythe is an antiques specialist at Gable & Co., an auction house in Toronto, Canada. While working alone late one night at the auction house, she hears a ghostly wailing from the dark corners of the basement. It’s not the first time someone has heard voices from the basement, but the last one who did, Alexis Harrow, had the staff convinced she was going crazy. Virginia has the same workaholic attitude as Alexis did, but she doesn’t want anyone thinking she is out of her mind.
After working up the courage to seek out the voice, Virginia finds herself face-to-face with the ghost of a long-dead Toronto socialite from the 1920’s. The ghost doesn’t say anything, but she hands Virginia an old book. A diary.
As Virginia begins reading, she finds herself drawn into the past. But then, in the present, as the auction house readies itself for the fall auction, items mysteriously go missing. The finger of blame is pointed at Virginia. And then someone dies…
Author Caroline Kaiser is a freelance editor, but before she that she worked for almost 14 years at an auction house. She uses her first-hand experience to give readers a behind-the-scenes look at what turns out to be a rather dysfunctional world. It’s a great idea, a great setting, ripe with possibilities for interesting characters, soap-opera drama, and foul play. She sets up the scene and creates the atmosphere in a realistic and inviting manner that gives the reader the “fly on the wall” feeling.
Reading this book reminded me in some ways of Steve Martin’s An Object of Beauty, which followed a young girl working her way up in the New York art-dealing scene of the late 1990’s and 2000’s. It gives an insider-type look at the world of art auctions and gallery shows. But where that book is more of a character study, tracking a character arc over a long period of time, Virginia’s Ghost instead offers up an immediate tale that is part ghost story, part mystery.
At the auction house, very few employees seem to like each other, but they hide their true feelings under a veil of smiles and courtesy. Dialogue often reveals people who may have spent too much time together and not enough time having a life outside the unforgiving auction house. Virginia herself is a solitary person who seems to have trouble trusting anyone. Especially after pieces under her supervision go missing. She’s a rich character and a good centerpiece for the story. The author handles her well. She’s a sympathetic protagonist that comes with her own set of flaws.
That said, a few of the other characters ran together for me. They became clearer as the story progressed, but I would have liked to have seen the dynamics of some of the relationships established a little stronger earlier on. This would have helped build up the drama surrounding the murder-mystery. I think the author could have taken additional time to develop them before she got into the ghost story without sacrificing pace. The ghost story seems to run parallel to the present-day mystery and does not intertwine as much as I would have liked to see. There is a point to it, a reason the ghost gave Virginia the diary, and it comes together right at the end, providing a nice character development for Virginia, but I thought that part was slightly anti-climactic.
All that taken together, I really enjoyed this read. It’s brisk at just over 71,000 words, but doesn’t feel short at all. It’s written in the first person and the main character is well-drawn. The auction house is a world of its own that plays perfectly with the characters. And the authors enjoyment of history (or at least the history of “old things,” as her bio says) shines through.