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When Ghosts Come Home


When Ghosts Come Home

Wiley Cash is an award-winning author who, in my humble opinion, is firmly planting the flag to become the successor to the great Cormac McCarthy. His latest novel, WHEN GHOSTS COME HOME, proves my point; at times I felt that the writing style and characters could have stepped directly out of McCarthy’s NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN.

Winston Barnes is the sheriff of Brunswick County, North Carolina. A week away from potentially being voted out of this role that he has held for decades, he is caring for his wife, Maria, who is suffering from a terminal illness.

"The sordid history of the town is peeled back by Cash like an onion, with each layer carrying deeper revelations that slowly drive the story toward the guilty parties."

One evening, Winston receives an urgent phone call to come to a nearby airfield to investigate a mysterious occurrence. He and a colleague discover two oddities: a plane, which crash-landed in a hurry, has been stripped bare with no passengers or cargo aboard, and the body they find nearby, killed by a bullet, is that of a young Black man named Rodney Bellamy. Rodney’s father is Ed Bellamy, a well-known resident of Brunswick County whom Winston knows personally.

Word quickly spreads, and the old wounds of racial divide are about to be violently ripped open. Jay, Rodney’s brother-in-law, becomes an early suspect as he is constantly in some sort of trouble at school. Winston still cannot figure out what was on board that plane and why Rodney was meeting up with it in the middle of the night.

We get to see the relationship that Jay had with Rodney, as well as the time Jay spends with a white boy named Cody, which gets him on the wrong side of some highly prejudiced people. Jay and Cody have a tense run-in while playing with a shotgun taken from Jay’s house when they find themselves on the property of Bradley Frye, an angry landowner who ends up being the same individual facing off against Winston in the upcoming election. Cash does an excellent job of introducing characters and then spinning them into the narrative, leaving it up to the reader to decipher the role that their interactions might play in the plot.

One such character is Tom Groom, a mysterious FBI agent who assists Winston in the case. He stays at the sheriff’s house, which quickly becomes crowded when Winston’s daughter, Colleen, shows up unexpectedly. She and her husband, Scott, live in Texas, but their marriage is on the rocks following her miscarriage. Colleen finds Groom to be odd, and her instincts are shared with the most astute readers.

Meanwhile, the Bellamys are facing a heightened level of discrimination, which includes trucks with Confederate flags being driven around their house. Ed accuses Frye of being the ringleader behind the harassment and claims that he may be a member of the Ku Klux Klan.

The sordid history of the town is peeled back by Cash like an onion, with each layer carrying deeper revelations that slowly drive the story toward the guilty parties. Without giving too much away, there is a sort of “non-ending” feel to WHEN GHOSTS COME HOME that reminded me of the aforementioned NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN. This deep connection really hit home for me and makes the novel follow the lines of Southern noir with a mix of present and past sins for which someone must be held accountable.

Reviewed by Ray Palen on September 24, 2021

When Ghosts Come Home
by Wiley Cash

  • Publication Date: September 27, 2022
  • Genres: Fiction, Mystery
  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks
  • ISBN-10: 0062313096
  • ISBN-13: 9780062313096