The Lost Boys of Barlowe Theater – Jaime Jo Wright

The Lost Boys of Barlowe Theater by Jaime Jo Wright
Also by this author: The Haunting at Bonaventure Circus, The Premonition at Withers Farm, The Premonition at Withers Farm, The Lost Boys of Barlowe Theater
Published by Bethany House Publishers on October 10, 2023
Genres: Fiction, Christian, Historical, Mystery, Suspense
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three-half-stars

Barlowe Theater stole the life of Greta Mercy's brother during its construction. Now in 1915, the completed theater appears every bit as deadly. When Greta's younger brother goes missing after breaking into the building, Greta engages the assistance of a local police officer to help her uncover the already ghostly secrets of the theater. But when help comes from an unlikely source, Greta decides that to save her family she must put the threat of the phantoms to rest.
Decades later, Kit Boyd's best friend vanishes during a ghost walk at the Barlowe Theater, and old stories of mysterious disappearances and ghoulish happenings are revived. When television ghost-hunting host and skeptic Evan Fisher engages Kit in the quest to identify the truth behind the theater's history, Kit reluctantly agrees to work with him in hopes of also finding out what happened to her friend. As the theater's curse begins to unravel Kit's own life, she sets out not only to save the historical building and her friend, but to end the pattern of evil that has marked their hometown for a century.
In this atmospheric dual-time tale, two women--separated by a century yet bound by the ghosts of the past--pursue light in the face of darkness.

I’ve long been a fan of Jaime Jo Wright. Her early novels were good—when your debut novel wins a Christy Award, that much is obvious—and her craft evolved from there. Some of them are better than others in my reckoning, but all of them are worth reading. And recently, she’s upped her game from one novel a year to two. The Lost Boys of Barlowe Theater is her latest and I read it almost a year to the day that I read her late 2022 novel The Premonition at Withers Farm. Maybe it’s because my mind was on that book when I started this one that I felt that the general premise of The Lost Boys of Barlowe Theater seemed rather familiar.

Both novels could be succinctly described as dual-time novels where the modern timeline involves a mystery and a cover-up of what happened in the historical timeline. Both books involve the grandchildren of certain characters either trying to uncover or trying to keep covered the events of the past. It’s almost as if Wright took the same premise and wrote multiple novels from it. They’re each distinct stories, but the mystery in The Lost Boys of Barlowe Theater felt lessened because I felt like I knew where the story was going.

Authors get into a groove. Publishers want content that’s been proven to sell. Readers crave the same stories. I don’t fault Wright for that. James Patterson writes the same Alex Cross novel every year. Sue Grafton wrote 25 Kinsey Milhone novels that could be interchangeable. And it’s also why I want to write this review as neither praise nor criticism, but as an observation. There’s safety and comfort for the author, for the publisher, and for the reader when the same type of story comes out of the same author. The Lost Boys of Barlowe Theater is a good story; I just felt like it was too much like a story Wright had already told. The end result being that the suspense was flattened and the mystery was lessened.

But is that a compliment to Wright? Because the only reason that I felt like I knew where the book was headed was because I know the Wright’s styles and customs. And Wright writes her rites rightly! Even knowing where the story was leading, I was still engaged and still interested in the story. If The Lost Boys of Barlowe Theater had been my first Jamie Jo Wright novel, I’d be giving it five stars. Because it feels like the lesser of two similar novels, I have to give it four. Is that fair? I don’t know. Will I continue to read her books? Certainly. I just hope that future books offer something a little more different and unexpected.

three-half-stars