Finley Montgomery has a gift she wishes she could turn down.
The protagonist of Lisa Unger's new paranormal thriller, Ink and Bone, is a 20-year-old college student who would like nothing better than to just go to class, ride her purple Harley Sportster and hang out with her sometime boyfriend, Rainer.
But when Finley wakes up hearing an incessant "squeak-clink" noise in her head, she knows it's no ordinary earworm. Someone is trying to reach her, and that someone is probably in trouble.
Bestselling author Unger, who lives in Clearwater, has set several of her previous 13 novels in a fictional small town somewhere north of New York City. The Hollows, as she calls it, has over the years become more than the usual mystery-tale backdrop. Although charming at first glance, the town seems to have a mysterious mind of its own.
In previous books set there, two characters have played main roles: Jones Cooper, a stalwart lawman, now retired and working as a private investigator, and Eloise Montgomery, Finley's grandmother, a psychic with whom Jones sometimes works — begrudgingly at first, but now with considerable faith in her abilities, and her integrity.
Eloise gained her psychic powers suddenly and traumatically, after her beloved husband and daughter died in an accident, and she struggled for a long time to understand those powers and find a way to use them.
Finley was born that way. Even though her mother, Amanda, fled all the way to Seattle to try to avoid that possibility, Unger writes, "The Hollows had kept its tendrils reaching out to her, tugging at her, keeping her connected until very recently, when it was time for her to come home."
Living with Eloise, Finley has grown accustomed to other, less corporeal residents of the house: the frowning specter of a woman in a black dress, a little boy endlessly playing with a toy train, a trio of teenage sisters who seem to take a lively interest in Finley herself. They've become such a part of Finley's life that Rainer, who is a tattoo artist, has covered her arms with inked images of them. But that squeak-clink doesn't seem to have anything to do with them, and it's driving Finley bonkers.
Then Jones comes to ask for her help. Almost a year ago, a young girl named Abbey Gleason was abducted during a hike near the town. Someone shot the girl's father and brother (both survived) and took her. Despite a long, exhaustive search, no trace of her has been found.
Abbey's shattered mother, Merri, wants to hire Jones. Eloise has tried to get a psychic fix on the girl, with no success. But she thinks her granddaughter can help — and maybe that squeak-clink is the first link. Reluctant as she is to use her abilities, Finley can't say no.
Unger builds the tension to high intensity by alternating chapters from Finley's point of view with those from the vantage point of the struggling Gleason family and that of the girl her captors call "New Penny." Little by little, the truth is revealed to Finley and to the reader — a dark side that winds through the Hollows like the long-abandoned mines that snake beneath its surface.
Finley is a believable 20-year-old, often impatient, sometimes too confident for her own good and careless about consequences, but smart and open to the ever-stranger experiences the case brings her, despite her skepticism about her own powers.
Ink and Bone takes the reader into dire places, but into the light as well. And Finley? My psychic vibes predict she'll be back.
Contact Colette Bancroft at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8435. Follow @colettemb.