When grieving mother and New York journalist Charlie Cates begins to experience vivid dreams about children after her only son passes away, she’s sure that she’s lost her mind. Yet she soon realizes these are not the hallucinations of a bereaved mother. They are messages and warnings that will help Charlie and the children she sees―if she can make sense of them.
The disturbing images lead her from her home in suburban New York City to small-town Louisiana, where she takes a commission to write a true-crime book based on the case of Gabriel Deveau, the young heir to a wealthy and infamous Southern family, whose kidnapping thirty years ago has never been solved. There she meets the Deveau family, none of whom are telling the full truth about the night Gabriel disappeared. And as she uncovers long-buried secrets of love, money, betrayal, and murder, the facts begin to implicate those she most wants to trust―and her visions reveal an evil closer than she could have imagined…
Suffused with the hot, steamy atmosphere of Louisiana The Gates of Evangeline immediately immerses the reader into the leisurely pace of life in the deep South, and the chasm between the have and have-nots. Inveigling her protagonist, Charlie Cates in the lives of the singularly dislikeable Deveau family, with all their deep and dirty secrets, Young spins a tale flavoured with a good dose of Southern Gothic, and a family saga tinged by an otherworldly supernatural twist. Young also captures perfectly the feel of this atmosphere of privilege and superiority that oozes through every pore of this family, and their innate sense of entitlement. With her vivid use of the Louisiana setting, and the depiction of the Deveau mansion and grounds, this aspect of the book is particularly potent. Equally, I loved the use of the steamy, festering, alligator-infested swamps, backing onto the Deveau property which added a real air of threat and menace to the whole affair. The description of these was absolutely enthralling, and sent a proper chill down this reader’s spine.
Labouring intermittently under the grief of having lost her own child, and some strange deviations into mystical dreams and visions, on the whole, Charlie Cates embodies a good mix of dogged journalist and vulnerable woman. She is an engaging protagonist, if a little too ruled by other parts of her anatomy rather than her head, as she embarks on a rather dodgy romantic liaison in the course of her investigation into this really rather unpleasant family. I did find the whole ‘vision’ thing a little wearing as the book progressed, as I was much more impressed with her when she was in journalistic mode, trying to tease out confessions and soliciting information from each family member as to the events thirty years previously. With her natural amiability and persistence, she does indeed uncover some grim truths, some obvious, some not, and these more than anything give a credibility and solidity to her character, outside of her more mystic Meg moments, and the slightly cheesy romance with the admittedly buff landscape gardener, Noah, who has more than one secret of his own.
What I particularly enjoyed about this book was the way that Young had obviously strived so hard to make this a comfortable, fairly linear and entertaining read for the reader. There were no real surprises, and a few hackneyed plot devices, but it was really refreshing to read a book that just smoothly carried me along, without making any real demands along the way. It was almost as if Young had sat down and thought what sort of book would entertain her as a reader, and then endeavoured to write that book, and so the book carries a certain kind of charm to it, that lifts it above the slight clunkiness of some of the narrative. I also liked the knowing reference that Young incorporates into her story where one character remarks that, “Not a lot of writers can pull off the whole Midnight In The Garden of Good and Evil thing” as The Gates of Evangeline does navigate similar waters, if less successfully. Yes, the denouement and reveals were not particularly well -disguised, and some of the character’s actions did feel a little out of step at times, but I quickly started ignoring the more obvious missteps, and instead found myself avidly reading to the end, thoroughly enjoying Young’s uncomplicated and engaging style.
(With thanks to Random House for the ARC)