The Shape of Night by Tess Gerritsen is a ridiculous book. I had hoped that it would transcend into glorious F+ territory, but sadly, despite all of its WTFery, it doesn’t. I also thought it might be romantic suspense, but it’s not. The Shape of Night is a thriller with erotic and paranormal elements (BDSM ghost sex, for real) but it fails to stick the landing on the thriller portion, it isn’t particularly erotic, and the paranormal world building doesn’t make sense. It was supremely disappointing.
Ava Collette is a cookbook author from Boston who is renting a seaside home in Maine for the summer. It’s pretty clear from the beginning that Ava is running from something back home–she avoids her sister’s calls, ruminates on a tragedy that occurred on New Year’s Eve, and drinks heavily to numb herself. Her cookbook, a collection of traditional New England recipes, is also overdue.
I will say that this book contains some serious food pr0n, so if you’re going to read it, don’t do so while hungry. Ava researches recipes and then tests them, and the descriptions of the aromas and flavors of lobscouse, seafood stew, and lobster drenched in butter made my stomach rumble. Sadly, the book doesn’t contain any recipes.
Ava was able to rent the house last minute because the previous renter left abruptly mid-season. The house, Brodie’s Watch, once belonged to a Captain Jeremiah Brodie who died at sea in the late 1800’s. Some people claim the house is haunted, but Ava dismisses that.
Then she starts having erotic dreams about the long-dead Captain Brodie. He appears to her in her sleep and leads her up to the house’s turret where they engage in kinky sex. Soon Ava begins to believe that these aren’t dreams, but rather erotic experiences she’s having with Brodie’s ghost. She thinks that he senses her guilt over whatever happened on New Year’s and provides her with the punishment and release she’s seeking.
When I realized there was BDSM ghost sex in this book I immediately messaged Sarah, who asked, “Is this erotic The Ghost and Mrs. Muir fanfic?”
I’d be down for that, to be honest, except that the erotic part was pretty much a let down. The kinkiness consists of Brodie restraining Ava, and then having p-in-v intercourse with her with no foreplay. It wasn’t very sexy and frankly I had to think there would be some chafing issues there since they jump straight to peen without any warm up. At one point he says he’s going to use a “billy club” to penetrate her and I wanted to tell him that dildos existed in the 1800’s.
So Ava has sex with a ghost, which freaks her out a little. She does some research into the house and learns that several women have died in it. Two deaths were ruled the result of an accident or natural causes, and a more recent death occurred when a fifteen-year-old girl fell from the widow’s walk. Then there’s the previous tenant, a woman named Charlotte. Ava finds a Hermes scarf and a cookbook that Charlotte left behind. She tries to contact her by email regarding the items, then proceeds to mail them back to Charlotte. Charlotte never replies and the package is returned. Ava investigates and finds out that Charlotte left Brodie’s Walk, but never reached her home.
She wonders if the ghost of Captain Brodie could somehow be killing these women. Eventually we find out what happened to Charlotte and the other women. That thriller element of the book was fairly predictable. It wasn’t awful, but it didn’t leave me particularly surprised.
We also learn what happened on New Year’s Eve and why Ava doesn’t want to talk to her sister.
It’s a lot and the fact that Ava’s sister just shows up at the end and is okay with everything is super mind boggling.
Where the novel really falls apart is the paranormal world building. Ava researches Brodie’s history, trying to find insight into her experiences. Elements of her research seem relevant, then never show up again in the novel. For example, she reads the diary of a woman named Imogen who seemed obsessed with Captain Brodie and her own spinster status, all of which seemed important, but then was never mentioned again. We never get closure on:
I walked away from this book feeling like it had no real rules regarding the paranormal elements. Between that, the lukewarm thriller aspects, and the fact that the sex was pretty bland, The Shape of Night basically failed to deliver on any of its promises.