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soldier-of-loveSoldier of Love” by Gabrielle Holly tells a story of a big-city event manager, Toni Bianchi, who realising that she leads an empty life with a non-committal boyfriend and a parade of demanding clients, decides to forfeit her career, sell all her assets and move to rural Ohio to run a rustic inn, a relict from the times of the Civil War. What she doesn’t realise at a time is that the inn is haunted, by no other than the ghost of John Buckman, a former soldier and a local hero. She struggles to get to grips with her new life, new realities and the dark presence she can’t see nor touch, only feel. And with each passing day her “ghost encounters” are getting more and more personal and sensual. From fleeting caress, invisible kisses to intimate petting. On a brink of madness Toni decides to seek help from the ghost-hunting crew of “Paranormal Research Team”, a famous TV-show. When she meets the handsome host, Thomas Becker and his “scientific” team of professional ghost-hunters all bets are off…

The story is simple if not to say simplistic. A New York, big-time stiletto-wearer moves to rural countryside to sort out her life and, as it were, “go back to her roots”. She doesn’t suspect that she is a medium and shortly after her arrival her blissful solitude is interrupted. John Buckman was a soldier in the Civil War and the first owner of the inn. By helping Toni with day-tp-day DIY around the old house he is trying to atone for the transgressions his son did using his name. We never however learn why he is so transfixed on seducing Toni and using her skills as a medium to enter her dreams and make her relieve the intimate moments between John and his wife, snippets of his life on the farm after his return from the war. The arrival of the TV crew creates a triangle where John uses Thomas’s body to seduce Toni even further and, by throwing her into the arms of another man, making sure that she’s happy and well cared for. After a pleasurable night the ghost of John Buchaman disappears and Tonia and Thomas are left with their newly discovered feelings for each other. As if he is certain that he atoned of the sins of his son and repaying Toni for… what exactly? At that stage I thought that perhaps the point of the story was to show this confident, career-oriented woman struggling in a new environment, yet in the end discovering herself and and love. But is this really what the story is about?

The trick with writing short stories and novellas in general is to convince the readers that what they read is genuine, believable and satisfying, all on less than 100 pages. It is a difficult task, which few manage successfully. And in the case of “Soldier of Love” 60 pages was not enough to show the growing attachment between Toni and the ghost, nor Toni and the news reporter. The ‘whys’ are missing. Everything happens so rapidly that the reader is left slightly confused, unable to understand why Toni feels compelled to succumb to the ghost’s seduction and why does she feels such a strong attachment to a man she is seeing for the first time in her life. Love at first sight? Not unheard of, but there is inadvertently something missing in the story which leaves the reader with a feeling of slight unfulfillment.