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Book Review: Phantom Nights by John Farris

Take one rape and murder case, add a misunderstood child, and mix it all with some good old Southern hospitality, and you get a ghost tale that will make your skin crawl. Phantom Nights is an absorbing tale of murder, lust, racism, greed, and guilt. If you liked To Kill a Mockingbird or the film, In the Heat of the Night, you will find much to appreciate here.

Priest Howard, a wealthy Southern gent, has just died. Moments before his last breath, he accused his son, Leland, of being a thief in front of his black nurse, Mally Shaw. Leland is sure that Mally has evidence that will sink him in the upcoming elections. In the hopes of retrieving the evidence, Leland pays Mally a "friendly" visit, which ends badly for Mally. Leland covers up the evidence and believes the incident is over. There are only two problems. One, there was a witness. And two, Mally's ghost can't seem to rest until Leland's sins are brought to light and punished.

The characters are clearly drawn. The prose is written in a lyrical style that is poetic. This has real Southern flava. Has there ever been a more despicable character than the Bobby Gambier's mother-in-law? Leland Howard is the perfect bad guy, who starts out the book a suave, confident politician and gradually shrinks to a pathetic shrimp with an oral fixation. Readers who enjoy murder mysteries, ghost stories, or Southern fiction will love this so it has wide appeal. Read it in the summertime with a nice, tall glass of lemonade.