Regilius Press (2021)
Reviewed by Tim Schueler for Reader Views (10/2021)
“Wraith” is a supernatural novel involving Warren Sumner, a successful San Francisco entrepreneur whose professional acumen and ability to predict the market do not successfully transfer to his personal life—he drinks too much. A night out with his family and his business partner, Jordan, leaves him too inebriated to find his car. After several wrong turns, the Sumners wander into the wrong part of town and thugs attack. He and his two children are killed; Brandi, his wife, is hospitalized. Warren dies and heads toward “the white light.” Knowing that his drinking and his pride are the reasons his family has been destroyed, fury engulfs him, so through sheer force of will, he resists the afterworld’s white light to stay in ours.
The reader witnesses Warren’s transformation from an in-between spirit, barely aware of its own existence, to a full-fledged ghost that can interact with us; finally it becomes a justice-seeking wraith capable of murder. Very violent murder. And it’s not just the attack on his family. Shortly before his death, Warren learns truths about his business partner, Jordan, involving personal and professional betrayal. This helps fuel his bloodthirsty need for revenge.
I found Mr. Bolton’s premise novel and was originally drawn into the plot: Would Warren be able to connect enough to the physical world to right his crooked business partner’s wrongs and avenge the attack on his family? It was interesting to watch Warren learn to communicate with the living, then begin manipulating physical objects before finally wreaking havoc.
As it becomes evident that the wraith can taunt, hurt, and kill at its leisure, the question becomes, if he needs his enemy—his crooked business partner, Jordan—to produce passwords to save their business from a financial demise, why doesn’t the wraith just, as gruesome as this sounds, employ torture to get them? Instead, Warren attempts to work through the living (a few junior staff at the firm) in an exercise to find the critical passwords and thwart Jordan’s plans to run with the money. Warren’s wraith-like powers essentially have no limit as the living cannot physically resist his actions. Even Superman feared kryptonite, but the wraith fears nothing and is completely unstoppable.
I didn’t feel a great deal of empathy for our hero, who did, in fact, create the conditions that led to all his problems. Therefore, I found his vicious attacks against the living as heavy-handed, completely one-sided and quite frankly, cruel. There is no offer of redemption for his victims; they are just murdered. There is minor redemption among the support characters, who team together to try to foil Jordan’s plans, but with the wraith’s supernatural powers, this paperchase isn’t necessary.
There were, however, interesting turns in the events of the ghost world. First, we discover that the wraith is not alone in haunting our world; there are others. Each has his reasons for not choosing the light, and most of these reasons aren’t good. There is conflict between these spirits, who can hurt each other. They can hurt each other’s “bodies,” as well as interfere with plans to eventually return to the white light, presumably where Warren’s dead children now reside, after justice is served. And there is another price for Warren’s post-death fury; fury is still a sin, and sin blocks ghosts from the white light. In this one respect, the hero does have a limit, which is an interesting story element. At the story’s end, the reader learns the answer to the all-important question: after the earthly problems are solved, will Warren’s soul make it to the other side? The answer is somewhat nihilistic, so if you need a Hallmark ending, you won’t get it.
I found some of the characters a little hackneyed (for instance, the drug-using thugs’ personalities and motivations seemed stereotypically antisocial). As well, there was an unnecessary lane change into another stereotype—priests are pedophiles—which is thankfully brief.
In conclusion, the novel’s plot is straightforward and Mr. Bolton’s writing style is distinct. It was never in doubt that the all-powerful wraith would triumph; without a real struggle between hero and villain with more or less even odds, the book may disappoint those looking for unpredictable outcomes. However, if you are curious as to what it would be like to die under terrible circumstances, then come back to crush your murderers, then “Wraith” will have the necessary bloodlust for you, and the exploration of the in-between ghost-world is a nice bonus.