Edition 27: Book Review: The Curse of Jacob Tracy by Holly Messinger
Reviewed by Mysti Parker
Just when I thought familiar paranormal tropes couldn’t result in a unique story, Holly Messinger proved me wrong. This beginning to a series (though it’s not clear as on the cover) takes us back to the Old West, to cowboys, horses, ghosts and werewolves. Oh my. And even with these common elements, the rich tale woven around them makes it one interesting historical paranormal read.
The story begins in 1880 in St. Louis, when Civil War veteran and former almost-priest Jacob Tracy responds to a summons from a Miss Fairweather. He and his partner, Boz, normally work odd jobs like escorting supply lines out west, but there’s not much work to be had. Miss Fairweather promises some good pay for what seems like a very simple fetch and deliver task for a little trinket box she’s inherited from a deceased friend.
From the moment he sets foot in her house, Jacob knows she’s more than just a frail little Englishwoman. He also suspects she sought him out not for his retrieval skills, but because of his “curse.” Since being wounded in the war, Jacob’s been able to see and interact with spirits. Why she’s interested, and how she knows about it, is a complete mystery to him. But he can’t help but be intrigued and oddly attracted to what she may know about the curse that’s tormented him for years.
As the story progresses, Jacob is tasked with increasingly dangerous situations that force him to use and grow into the curse he’s tried to hold back. At one point, he decides he has enough and flees out west with Boz to live a quiet life working on a horse ranch. Of course, as Miss Fairweather warned him, wherever he goes, trouble will be sure to follow. And follow it does, leading up to a harrowing climax and ending.
The beauty of this story is not only in the tale itself, but in the lyrical writing. Vivid, descriptive passages pull you into the story. I also appreciated the messages about race and acceptance during this time period (Boz is African American). The author did a tremendous job with historical accuracy and nailed the character voice by the end. The first half or so of the book, it felt as though she had yet to fully engage with Jacob’s voice, but heading toward the climax to the end, the author’s presence totally fades into the characters and setting, letting them tell the story. That to me is the ultimate goal of writing fiction. Readers want to be totally immersed, not reminded that the fictional world is a product of a real live human being, until they come up for air after the last page.
The only criticisms I can offer are purely the nitpicky variety. About two-thirds into the story, when Jacob heads west, the pacing dragged for a while and didn’t keep me turning the pages as urgently until the early beginnings of the climax. Also, it felt as though the author started, then shied away from, any romantic elements whatsoever. I realize romance is something some authors don’t want to be associated with, but this girl enjoys a great love story in any genre and at the very least a natural progression of romantic elements, even if it’s not the focus of the plot.
Despite my nitpicks, The Curse of Jacob Tracy is well worth the time for anyone who enjoys paranormal fiction, particularly those that are set in the past. With its mild profanity and moderately graphic violence, I’d recommend it for teens and adults. Give it a try for your next summer read.
The Curse of Jacob Tracy, by Holly Messinger
Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books, 2015
Mysti Parker is a wife, mother, and shameless chocoholic. While her first love is romance, including the Tallenmere fantasy romance series and an award-winning historical with EsKape Press, she enjoys writing flash fiction (the weirder the better) and children’s stories. She resides in Buckner, KY with her husband, three children and too many pets.