Set on Oak Island, North Carolina in the mid 1980s, WHEN GHOSTS COME HOME is a haunting story about family, prejudice, and small-town conflict. It’s part historical novel, part murder mystery, and part southern fiction.
I read it slowly to enjoy the setting, the writing, the subtle rise in tension. But I had to fight the temptation to flip pages for answers about who crash-landed a huge, old-fashioned plane on the island’s runway in the middle of the night. And who shot the young Black father found dead at the scene after he went out to buy diapers.
The story comes to life through three very different point-of-view characters: Sheriff Winston Barnes, his grown daughter, and the dead man’s fourteen-year-old brother-in-law.
Winston is an unforgettable, multifaceted hero: a good guy, an ordinary guy, a tired guy, who shows his mettle when pushed. I especially loved his relationship with his daughter—in the present and through teen memories she shares.
Colleen is recovering from a recent tragedy when she leaves her husband and returns home to her parents, unannounced. But as she regains her emotional strength, she begins to ask questions about the investigation into the violent death of her former classmate. She shines as she does so, becoming more and more like her dad.
The third voice belongs to the rebellious Jay, sent from Atlanta to straighten out in his sister’s quiet rural home. On the island, however, he confronts danger far more terrifying and immediate than anything he’s witnessed, or been involved with, in the city.
Everything reaches a boiling point as Winston tries desperately to solve the murder amidst unfounded rumors of drug-running by the Black population. He also walks a thin line as he struggles to do the right thing, while attempting to ignore the upcoming election he’s slated to lose to a powerful, corrupt, bigot stirring up hate with guns and the confederate flag.
And the ending? Wow. Packed with emotion, but devoid of melodrama. Nothing is big and overblown in this novel, but it quietly packs a memorable punch.