Book Review: Chapel Playhouse by Roberta L. Smith

12752773Title: Chapel Playhouse
Author: Roberta L. Smith
Genre: Paranormal Mystery, Ghosts, Thriller
Publisher: Lulu
Publication Date: August 1st 2011
Rating: 4,5 stars
Goodreads | Amazon | Author Website
Review copy provided by the author.

Mickey may be on his honeymoon at sixty-seven years old, but when his psychic juices get flowing, telling him he needs to save the life of nineteen-year-old coed Casia Winfred, he and his bride cut the honeymoon short.

They fly to the University of Brookdale where Mickey quickly learns Casia is surrounded by intrigue. A haunted, abandoned theater known as the Chapel Playhouse appears to be at the heart of things. Between her troubled boyfriend, a spooky Gothic Lit professor, the deserted theater, and her dead mother’s ghost, Casia doesn’t realize the danger she’s in.

Through telepathy, psychic visions, remote viewing, and more, Mickey separates fact from fiction until secrets are surfaced and one thing becomes clear: Casia must never pass through the Chapel Playhouse doors.

I previously reviewed the first book in this series, The Secret of Lucianne Dove. Although Chapel Playhouse is the sequel to that book, you don’t necessarily have to read the prequel to understand what’s going on in this book – it can be read as a standalone novel as well.

Mickey McCoy is a journalist with obvious clairvoyant abilities. And when I tell you he’s clairvoyant I don’t just mean that he can see ghosts or even communicate with them. No, Mickey McCoy is the real deal. He has visions about people bursting into flames, feelings of dread whenever something bad is going to happen and dreams that reveal hidden messages about disastrous events just waiting to happen. On top of that, Mickey isn’t the only one getting into contact with some spirits who have trouble crossing over. There’s Luce, who returns from book one in the series, but who hasn’t gotten in contact with a ghost since Lucianne left her alone. But there’s also Casia, Luce’s new roommate at university, who occassionally talks with the spirit of her dead mother. Although this spirit doesn’t appear threatening and actually saves Casia from some otherwise nasty situations, Mickey has the feeling that something isn’t quite right. More importantly, he had a vision in which he sees Casia burst into flames, and dreams about an old chapel playhouse in which Casia meets a certain death. Determined to help out Luce’s new-found friend, Mickey and his new bride Marjorie even cancel their honeymoon and go to the university.

But there’s a lot more to Casia than meets the eye. For instance, her boyfriend Cal is accused of the murder on a guy known as ‘The Python’, leader of a notorious student club at university. The Python was found murdered inside the Chapel Playhouse. Although evidence at first points to Cal, he is saved by a recorder clearly adding Hurst, another member of the club in the mix, and an unknown voice nobody can really place. On top of that, Cal managed to take some seriously scary pictures in the playhouse known to be haunted. Police find it a bit strange that Cal was practically obsessed with joining the student club in the first place, considering he doesn’t really get along with any of the members, but eventually he is released because all evidence points in the direction of Hurst.

Casia never questioned her boyfriend’s innocence, but they do have some serious issues to work out. Like how Cal kept it a secret that his brother Chris tried to join the same student club years ago, spent a night in the Chapel Playhouse and was completely insane by the time daylight hit. He now spends his days in a nursing home. Or like Cal has these weird episodes where he completely pulls back and doesn’t want to have anything to do with her. Plus, the spirit of her mother continuously warns Casia about Cal. But her relationship isn’t the only thing that’s on the line. When Mickey and Marjorie dig deeper into Casia’s past they discover a string of accidents and deaths related to her that are too peculiar just to be a coincedence. And for some reason people Casia gets close to have the tendency to pull away very soon, as if they’re afraid of something. Something is definately threatening Casia and the people she cares about. And the answer to that secret is hidden in the Chapel Playhouse, the very place Casia should stay as far away from as possible…

Although Mickey, a grumpy but caring sixty-seven year old man remains the protagonist of this story, he now has to share that position with timid and reserved Casia. Now that girl has gone through some stuff in her young life. First she has a heroine-addicted mother who died of an overdose when she was barely three years old and a father who apparently didn’t want her. Then she gets raised by loving stepparents only for them to get into a freak accident both on the same day when she’s eleven. Her new foster parents are nice enough, but since the husband likes to touch young girls, she can never really care for them the way you should care about parents. Luckily enough the man’s tries are quickly stopped by her mother’s spirit. As Casia grows up, her friends leave her quickly, her first love backs away hastily when things get rough, and she obviously has trouble getting close to people. Although she’s quiet and reserved, she is a very loving and giving person underneath. She wants friends desperately but she’s been scarred by all her friends sudden dissapearances over the years, and she’s afraid to open up to everyone. As a reader, you instantly feel sorry for her and want to help her. She is a character you can’t help but love.

Dr. Wake is one of the many side characters in this book, but he is by far the most interesting one. He is a professor who donates his entire wage to the university, who practically lives in his office and who has the weird tendency to go to the chapel playhouse when he shouldn’t be there. It’s clear to the reader almost immediately that Dr. Wake needs to have some connection to the chapel playhouse, or to the ghost reportedly haunting it, the ghost of Tony, a fellow who was killed in a freak accident after running off from stage after being humiliated by the other actors. Dr. Wake is one of those characters who seems to have run straight out of a gothic horror novel. I loved him, absolutely loved him, and the more I found out about him, the more intriguing I thought he was. Definately my favorite character of the entire book.

As opposed to what happens in The Secret of Lucianne Dove, in which we meet a benevolent ghost who wants to come to the aid of the living, we meet a typical vengeful spirit in Chapel Playhouse, yet there are different layers to this supposed vengefulness, as readers will soon notice. The most important message Roberta L. Smith gets across in her books is that sometimes even evil isn’t completely evil, and that we are all too eager to judge ghosts as being mean-spirited and intent on vengeance and vengeance alone. We often forget that they were originally seen as lingering spirits unable to cross over for some reason, and not all those reasons were to seek vengeance on those who did them wrong.

Chapel Playhouse is an excellent mixture between a paranormal mystery and a sort of new-age gothic horror book, as it mixes supernatural elements with elements of the gothic horror genre. It offers characters with strong, complex personalities and a plotline with twists and turns that will keep you reading till the very end. The story isn’t very straightforward, it’s complex and multilayered and the mysteries are solved only one at a time, the final clues lingering till the very end of the novel. This book reads very much like a TV series in the style of Supernatural, except that it’s a lot more complicated and would take more than one hour to solve. It also adds the concept of everyone being able to see ghosts, at least up to some level, which I find both frightening and intriguing. This novel was, at least to me, more frightening than the previous one in the series and I loved it all the more for that. If you’re a fan of ghosts, the paranormal or just solving mysteries, then Chapel Playhouse definitely is your kind of thing.

This book counts towards the TBR Reading Challenge, the Mystery and Suspense Challenge and the Go Indie Challenge.

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