February 2, 2016
Reviewed by Marvin P. Vernon
Rick is a young mechanic in the small New England “bedroom community” of Whistleville. Things are pretty laid back for Rick – aside from having a girlfriend that he’s not quite sure of in the fidelity department, there have been some new arrivals in town who are causing serious problems for him and his friends. These people are infested with a disease called the Ghost Heart; the condition make them strong and invincible as long as they drink human blood, but eventually they fall victim to the disease as they turn pale and fade away. Rick is unfortunate enough to fall in love with one of them.
When reading the summary of John Palisano’s Ghost Heart, it is impossible not to think “vampire” (and it would be fair to call this a variant of the vampire mystique) but Palisano’s vampires are not eternal – they are sick. The condition brings lots of perks to it provided you have a fresh supply of blood, yet there is a price to be paid. Rick is at first an innocent spectator to this new affliction; he is targeted by the Ghost Heart-inflicted gang led by a rather vicious man named Damien, but he has also met Minarette, a devastatingly beautiful girl who seems lost in her own way. The heart of the tale lies in Rick’s inability to avoid misfortune, the penalty his friends pay, and the inevitability of a doomed love. Think Romeo and Juliet with vampire thingies.
That is the crux of what makes this novel so interesting – it isn’t really a horror story as much as a love story. But wait horror fans, it should be mentioned that this is indeed a scary book. There is a lot of eerie atmosphere building throughout the pages and even though Whistleville is a small town just outside the cities, there is a feeling of isolation in which the town appears powerless against the Ghost Heart carriers, and the police are less than competent. As we find out more about the Ghost Heart and its victims, there are some incredibly tense scenes that should satisfy most horror aficionados. Yet it is the relationship between Rick and Minarette that fuel the tale – Rick is young and insecure, whereas Minarette is irresistible and at first seems sure of herself. She is also doomed, and her vulnerability starts to come through as the story develops. The author ties this relationship in neatly with the horror plot and it works quite well. This dark resemblance of a romance is a nice deviation from the “scare them and scare them some more” habit of many recent books where human emotions are secondary.
I would recommend Ghost Heart to someone who likes a good horror novel yet wants something that also features important human interactions and issues or someone looking for a novel that is vampire yet not really vampire. It is always nice to see a new bent on the old warhorse and doubly nice to read a book that is able to add some real human dilemmas to its story.