Ochse and Navarro are best known as horror authors, but they've teamed up to deliver a surprisingly heartfelt coming-of-age tale, complete with a young protagonist who leaves home a little boy, and comes back a young man.
Matt Cady is having a rough time: His parents are headed for a divorce, and his best friend, Regina Running Deer, is planning to run away from her own broken home to join her shady cousin and his motorcycle gang on the road. When Regina finally makes her move, Matt gets the brilliant idea to run away with her, hoping that his disappearance, and subsequent miraculous return, will bring his parents closer together and save their marriage.
Aside from Regina, Matt has a couple of unusual traveling companions: Jacket and Raisin, a pair of spirit guardians, who have been watching over Matt and Regina, respectively, for years. Regina has outgrown her guardian Raisin, but he still follows her, unseen and unheard, hoping to break through to her and get her off of the path her life is taking. When Matt and Regina finally hook up with Regina's shifty cousin Ali Baba, things take a turn for the worse, and Matt is left alone with Jacket, and soon finds himself confronted with an enigmatic witch, vampire kitties, a ravenous phantom, and the ghosts of Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane.
While Ochse and Navarro have crafted a fast-paced narrative, the book ultimately feels a bit hollow because the stakes of the quest are so low. There's no life-or-death imperative.....if Matt fails, the worst that can happen is that his parents will split up. There's a lot of bizarre story detours, with witches, brutal bikers, ghosts and phantoms, but it all feels like padding and wheel-spinning, designed to beef up the page count. The dual threat of The Phantom and Ali Baba and the 40 thieves are built up throughout the novel, and ultimately fizzle away inconsequentially. Ochse and Navarro do nail one key aspect of the novel, however, in the quiet scenes between Matt and his ghostly mentor, Jacket. Their relationship rings true, and tugs at the heartstrings.
GHOST HEART is a quick, light read...it holds the reader's attention, and the tender relationship between Matt and Jacket is enough to cover up the novel's narrative flaws, but this is ultimately a slight little book, that will likely be forgotten soon after turning the last page.
The publisher provided a review copy.