The Haunting at Bonaventure Circus – Jaime Jo Wright

The Haunting at Bonaventure Circus Jaime Jo Wright
The Haunting at Bonaventure Circus by Jaime Jo Wright
Published by Bethany House on September 1, 2020
Genres: Fiction, Christian, Suspense
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two-half-stars

1928
The Bonaventure Circus is a refuge for many, but Pippa Ripley was rejected from its inner circle as a baby. When she receives mysterious messages from someone called the "Watchman," she is determined to find him and the connection to her birth. As Pippa's search leads her to a man seeking justice for his murdered sister and evidence that a serial killer has been haunting the circus train, she must decide if uncovering her roots is worth putting herself directly in the path of the killer.

Present Day
The old circus train depot will either be torn down or preserved for historical importance, and its future rests on real estate project manager Chandler Faulk's shoulders. As she dives deep into the depot's history, she's also balancing a newly diagnosed autoimmune disease and the pressures of single motherhood. When she discovers clues to the unsolved murders of the past, Chandler is pulled into a story far darker and more haunting than even an abandoned train depot could portend.

The Haunting at Bonaventure Circus is a story told in two times, in two halves. The past storyline is a reasonably told tale of mystery, deceit, and death (with just the right amount of kitsch). The modern storyline is a mishmash of unlikable characters solving a murder that makes little sense and only has loose ties to the past storyline. It was a story I wanted to like so badly, but kept interrupting itself the modern storyline just as soon as I’d settled into the past.

In the modern storyline, Chandler Faulk is a real estate developer—well, her uncle owns the company, but she works at it—whose job is to determine whether or not an old circus train depot should be renovated or torn down. Chandler desperately wants to renovate the depot for relatively unexplained reasons, but this plot is almost immediately abandoned as she must first solve the mystery of why the depot seems haunted. But this storyline is also sort-of abandoned as Chandler instead begins to learn the history of the town while continually running into Super Hunky Dude.

They begin to unravel some mysteries of the past, including finding some dead bodies in the depot. She soon discovers that the town blames Super Hunky Dude and SHD’s uncle (also her landlord) for the deaths since it’s rumored the uncle’s dad committed the murders. It’s a needlessly complex storyline that I think is supposed to help pull apart the past storyline mystery, but it’s absolutely not compelling. Chandler is an unlikable character and events happen near the end to reveal The Real Killer All Along that just does not follow. There’s a heavy weight placed on The Family Name. One family feels shame and is ostracized because of their family’s past. Another person kills to keep their family’s good name. Wright appears to want to talk about the weight of the past, but because the present storyline does not cohere with the past storyline, it just doesn’t work.

In the past, Pippa Ripley is the adopted daughter of the circus owner, engaged to be married to the circus manager. When she receives a mysterious message from someone who calls themselves “the watchman,” she learns of her past and determines to unravel the secrets of her birth. Her search leads her to a man seeking justice for his murdered sister and evidence of a serial killer. Continuing her journey will help her discover her identity, but just may put herself in the killer’s crosshairs.

Wright really should have leaned into the circus aspect of the novel. For it being the hook, the title, and mentioned as part of Wright’s background, there’s very little circusing that goes on. Wright takes us adjacent to that world, but never into it. The adoption plot is typical, one I find a bit more forgivable when set in the early 1900s but still annoying. It’s a well-told plotline, but it’s only half the book and doesn’t stand on its own.

I fully realize I’m in a pretty large minority when it comes to this book, and I’m good with that. I thought Echoes Among the Stones was a great, suspenseful read and I’ve heard great things about her previous books. This one just did not come together for me. The two storylines never cohered in a way that made one solid story. It never delivered on its hook: an exploration of an early 1900s circus. A lot of unmet expectations in this one, but not so many I won’t try again with her next book.

two-half-stars