Gulf Coast Paranormal
Gulf Coast Paranormal Season One by M.L. Bullock
This series is a mammoth piece of fiction (15 novels) following a team of paranormal investigators. The opening book, The Ghosts of Kali Oka Road, is one of the most enjoyable works in the genre I have ever read. It establishes a group of friends, or people who think they are friends, and follows them as they attempt to help a man who had a life changing run in with the supernatural. As they do so, their very credible relationship issues (both romantic and otherwise) screw up their lives and make the cast feel very real.
As the books continue, a pattern is formed. At the heart of each novel is another investigation, and the stakes in those investigations seems to grow and grow as they encounter darker and more dangerous spirits. Those stories are good tales of the supernatural, but they are not ultimately what fuels the series. That is the subplots surrounding the very likeable cast as they have realistic problems with each other and their relatives, and sometimes some real-world concerns like believable medical problems. The subplots revolving out of the cast of characters’ problems are both the strength and the weakness of the series, because as the books progress, Bullock has the opportunity to seriously develop those storylines and simultaneously develop her world but she drops the opportunity. Thanks to these subplots, we know that not everyone with the abilities of a sensitive uses those powers for good, but her hints only whet my appetite for more. They didn’t satisfy me. And I think that she missed a major opportunity by not making some of those problems the main focus of one of the novels. Perhaps she will in Season Two. I know I’d be interested in seeing that aspect of this series more fully developed and I’d bet many of her other fans would too.
In Series Order
1 The Ghosts of Kali Oka Road by M. L. Bullock
This is not a perfect book, but man did I have fun reading it. The story opens with two high school kids parking on Kali Oka Road to make out. Instead, they end up having a fight. The girl jumps out of the car and the boy threatens to leave her. Then something terrible and seemingly supernatural happens and the girl’s wrist is suddenly dropped near her boyfriend followed quickly by her severed head. Panicking, as anyone would, the boy actually does the right thing—he races to the police with his story and ends up in psychiatric observation. No sign of the girl (or her severed body parts) are discovered and the young man spends the rest of his life under suspicion of having murdered her. But we know he didn’t—and he wants answers to what happened and the supernatural things he saw the night she died.
Enter Cassidy, a wealthy young woman who is haunted by the disappearance of her sister, and who is occasionally driven to paint her visions. This time when she paints a mansion in her dreams, she starts to experience what happened to a woman nearly two centuries ago. Her vision drives her to seek out a semi-professional group of ghost hunters calling themselves Gulf Coast Paranormal who are actually already looking into the mansion—which was on the road where the young girl was murdered in the first chapter.
Everyone in this story, the high school sweethearts, Cassidy and her ex-boyfriend, the two co-owners of Gulf Coast Paranormal, and most importantly, the ghosts on Kali Oka Road are having major relationship problems. I predicted this would be the key to solving the supernatural mystery but you’ll have to read the book to find out if I was right. What we definitely get is a supernatural problem that pulled me right in and kept me happy for every page of the novel. As I said in my opening statement, the story isn’t perfect. Everything isn’t tied together with a nice little bow and that means that I didn’t learn enough about a couple elements of the mystery, but I loved what M. L. Bullock gave me. The characters were fantastic and believable and the tensions their personalities generated really boosted the story. In addition, the supernatural elements really worked for me. And there are enough threads—plot lines not tied to the primary mystery—to have me eager to dive into the next novel.
This is going to be a great series.
2 The Ghosts of the Crescent Theater by M. L. Bullock
The second volume of Gulf Coast Paranormal continues to capture the same magic as the first. Even as the group considers tackling a haunted theater, Cassidy begins to paint visions of a new spectral woman. Unfortunately, she paints the image into a mural in the apartment of two of her Gulf Coast Paranormal colleagues with frightening results.
The woman from the image appears to be a ghost in the Crescent Theater who is determined to have her time in the spotlight. As the mystery unfolds, M.L. Bullock once again uses Cassidy’s visions to see into the past permitting Bullock to let the reader learn what originally happened even as the paranormal investigators try to deal with the spirits that resulted from the long-ago tragedy.
Both storylines were intensely interesting, but it continues to be the interactions between the investigators that pushes this series over the top. Sarah continues to cause trouble even after she leaves the group, while the problems between Sierra and her husband spiral out to interfere with the investigations. All of this, plus the budding romance between Midas and Cassidy, combine to make the cast of characters feel very real which of course makes the reader care much more about them.
Ultimately, however, this novel rises on the strength of its ghost story, which once again lifts the tale high up above the rafters.
3 A Haunting on Bloodgood Row by M. L. Bullock
It seems to me that the ghost hunting by Gulf Coast Paranormal is getting a bit darker and more dangerous with each new volume of their story. The ghosts are getting more “physical” (for lack of a better word) and trying to uncover their activity and put them at rest is getting more risky as a result. In this story, the ghosts are able to play with the dimensions of the building the team is investigating, moving people from one locale to another—a major step up in the risk factor.
In addition, the Gulf Coast Paranormal team is getting more messed up. Perhaps their work is spilling into their relationships (or perhaps people having this many relationship problems is just normal) but the interpersonal problems are growing from book to book adding a different kind of tension to the story. People can do stupid things out of jealousy and we see some of that here. We also see major trust issues that will have a long-term impact on the series.
We also finally get some insight into Cassidy’s relationship with her uncle which somehow connects to Cassidy’s missing (and probably dead) sister. This is a long developing plot line in the series that finally advanced a few more paces.
Overall, I really enjoyed this book.
4 The Legend of the Ghost Queen by M. L. Bullock
The danger continues to grow. This time, Cassidy’s painting reveals that Joshua, one of the members of the Gulf Coast Paranormal team, is in great danger. Unfortunately, Joshua and his wife Sierra, have just split up and Joshua isn’t interested in listening to his former teammates. The ghost of an old Voodoo Queen is out for vengeance for a personal betrayal and the loss of her child and she has world altering power to help her achieve it.
Meanwhile, the Gulf Coast Paranormal team is continuing to fragment. Not only are Joshua and Sierra breaking up, but there’s a breach between Cassidy and Midas as well. All of this drama brings a lot of painful emotion with the team into the ghost hunting, which empowers the spirits to cause harm in our world.
The set up for this series continues to really work for me. I’m looking forward to the next book.
5 A Haunting at Dixie House by M. L. Bullock
Trouble from the past appears again in this novel as Midas’ ex-best friend, who cheated on him with his girlfriend of the time, returns trying to kick his alcoholism just as the team gets involved in investigating a new haunting. A young boy disappeared on his birthday while swimming in a pool and everyone blamed his great aunt who was his caretaker. To make matters worse, a medium in the Netherlands with abilities similar to Cassidy’s had painted a picture of him being attacked. And now Cassidy is finding wet footprints in her apartment as she continues to find links to the spirits through her paintings.
So the Gulf Coast Paranormal team investigates the site where the boy disappeared and learns that there are a lot of spirits lingering in the old house that used to be a speak easy in the 1920s. At least one of the ghosts is very angry and powerful enough to inflict some serious wounds on Midas. Like all the other stories in the series, this is a tale of love gone wrong and the team struggling to make things right a great many decades after the initial crime. As they do so, Cassidy begins to realize that she is having a lot of visits from ghosts in her own apartment and they are scaring her.
I think the best part of the story was the chapter in which Cassidy’s uncle visits her again. This really opens up Cassidy’s past as a source of future storylines for the series (as if her past wasn’t already fertile ground for ghost stories). Midas also has a death in his past that looks like it could turn into another problem with the spirit world.
6 The Ghost Lights of Forrest Field by M. L. Bullock
Gulf Coast Paranormal is back, this time investigating mysterious lights that appear over Forrest Field. The lights bring with them the ozone smell of electricity and there are stories of them burning people in the past so there is a greater level of danger than usual right from the beginning in this novel.
The mystery—the ghosts—date back to an eighteenth century judicial lynching of a woman accused of burning her friend to death. There is an undercurrent of racism in the lynching as the woman was having a relationship with a Native American that clearly scandalized the community. The GCP team has to figure out how to set all three spirits—the lynched woman, the burnt woman, and the Native American, to rest.
These novels are very short reads and they really work for me. I’m six into the series now and I’m still having trouble articulating just what it is that attracts me to them so strongly. I think the answer is in the relationships of the GCP team. I really like the characters and they all have their share of problems which help them come to life. I’m really looking forward to the next book.
7 The Ghost of Gabrielle Bonet by M. L. Bullock
Gulf Coast Paranormal is back looking into a haunting in a museum—several hauntings actually. The ghosts of many women shipped into the region to be brides of the settlers that preceded them are restless, and as our heroes investigate they learn that there was both a murder and a coverup in the past that is the root of the problem.
The aspect that makes this series so enjoyable is the tensions and interactions within the group of investigators. There was less of that this time around, but the fundamental question they have to deal with is an important one. Cassie’s paranormal talents have led the team down the path to many a solution, but they aren’t scientific evidence and the whole purpose of the group is to find evidence. It’s an interesting problem handled well by the author.
8 The Ghost of Harrington Farm by M. L. Bullock
Traveling to a Civil War reenactment, Midas and Cassidy get pulled into an investigation into paranormal activity involving an old house where four southern prisoners were murdered during the war. This novel crystalized for me something that has been troubling me for several books now. Cassidy’s ability to see the past is actually damaging the mysterious elements of the story. This whole book centers on the question of who actually murdered the prisoners—a lieutenant or a private—and yet the reader knows from moment one who really did the crime. There is no mystery. And it hurts the story. The investigation needs to bring up the evidence that leads to the solution, not be spoon fed it by Cassidy’s visions.
That being said, it’s still a good yarn. One of the team has cancer and it’s hard for the group to come to grips with that. And there’s a ghost dog that adds some warmth and humanity to the tale. I just wish that we could have a little less of Cassidy’s visions telling us what actually happened in the past.
9 The Creature on Crenshaw Road by M. L. Bullock
M. L. Bullock finds the magic again with the ninth book in her Gulf Coast Paranormal series and I’m trying to figure out what she did that brought the series back to full bloom for me. The first part was obvious—there is a whole new kind of threat in this book. A physical monster, referred to as a cryptid, and the fact that there is a physical beast raises the stakes tremendously in this novel and that was obviously a good thing. Also, the mystery was a good one with both a historical aspect and a modern aspect, and there was no point in which I wasn’t engaged in solving it.
However, I think what worked best for me was that the personal interactions sparked in a way that they haven’t in the past couple of books. An old friend of Midas’ has come back to rejoin the team and they obviously are good friends sparking the possibility of major jealousy problems with his girlfriend. The old friend also used to date Pete and one of the new team members is interested in her. This does not turn into a soap-opera-esq romance, but it does add some worthwhile color to the cast and made the whole book work on multiple levels.
10 A Ghostly Ride in Gulfport by M. L. Bullock
Bullock does it again. This time the ghost has a living family member who is obviously suffering from the loss of her brother. Add to that, the ghost is powerful enough to turn on the lights in a carnival that is not connected to the electric grid. That’s some serious juice, especially in a ghost that looks pretty hostile. As if that isn’t bad enough, Cassidy’s paintings are taking a turn for the weird. I haven’t been a fan of these paintings in the last few books, but this time Bullock gives them a twist that really makes them interesting. Add to that the social lives of the Gulf Coast Paranormal team continue to be bumpy and you have the makings of another good book in this series.
11 The Maelstrom of the Leaf Academy by M. L. Bullock
Bullock’s world of the supernatural just got substantially larger as she introduces a malevolent supernatural entity that is definitely not a ghost. In fact, it makes ghosts by feeding on its victims’ souls. And it has taken root in an old boy’s school called the Leaf Academy where it has been preying on people for centuries (actually in the region before the Leaf Academy was built).
The Gulf Coast Paranormal team didn’t seem ready for this challenge to me. Midas is disturbed by the coming anniversary of the death of his cousin. Joshua’s temper is out of sorts. And Jocelyn, who recently rejoined the team, has had a bad experience in the Leaf Academy, is frightened of it, and is impulsively failing to follow the rules. At least, for once, the focus was not on Cassidy’s painting talents, and that was good for the story.
This one is the most physically threatening installment yet, but the fullest manifestation of that threat really didn’t make sense to me, which in my mind really weakened the story. I just don’t see any reason that things had to (or even should of) end as they did.
12 The Ghosts of Phoenix No 7 by M. L. Bullock
This book had the potential to become one of the best novels in this series, but ended up squandering the opportunity. The basic plot—ghosts in a fire station—was fine and pretty much what we’ve come to expect from the series. The team is called in to investigate paranormal activity, have a couple of encounters with ghosts, and finally figure everything out. It was even touching at the end. But it was the subplots that offered the chance to turn this into an extraordinary novel, so let me take a moment to talk about them.
First, Midas, team founder, is not dealing well with the death of a teammate in the last book. He drops out of contact with his team and his girlfriend, Cassidy, and then disappears with an ex-girlfriend to return to the Leaf Academy where his teammate died. This move on his part was stupid on so many levels, but totally believable. And it sets the stage for a great adventure reminiscent of the beginning of the series. Midas is driven by guilt to face the Maelstrom again and goading him on is his self-absorbed ex-girlfriend who is looking for ratings for her new paranormal show. Not only does it give at least the appearance of cheating, we’ve seen in book after book that when the emotional state of the investigators is messed up, it impacts the investigation. This would have been a great story, worthy of a novel itself, but it all happens off screen and ends up being a great big dud.
Second, Sierra’s mother-in-law, who has hated her from book one and totally disrespects her interest in the supernatural is now having a supernatural problem of her own. This may be the focus of a future novel. It’s set up nicely here, but again, at least for now, nothing happens with it.
This is a good series and I hate to see moments lost that could make it great.
13 The Ghosts of Oakleigh House by M.L. Bullock
Bullock builds some excellent tension in this latest book in the Gulf Coast Paranormal series. Much of it is in the main storyline, but the two best pieces are in the subplots.
In the main story, a ghost pushes a ladder over causing the man on the ladder to break bones. This results in an old crush of Midas’ calling in the Gulf Coast Paranormal crew to investigate and that investigation leads to a physical item that is attracting negative spirits and trapping more positive ones. It’s very interesting and takes a big step in expanding the foundations of Bullock’s paranormal world. But the subplots do that even better because both suggest that people—sensitives like Sierra and Cassidy—can use their abilities to harm less protected humans.
In the last book, we learn that Sierra’s mother-in-law may be having a problem with the supernatural. In the beginning of this book, we learn that an angry neighbor is behind the problem—and that has chilling implications. Then, in a separate subplot, an old art student of Cassidy’s seeks her out and messes with her, resulting in Cassidy getting very sick—a subplot that I sincerely hope Bullock will pursue. Could it be that the success of the Gulf Coast Paranormal team in resolving so many cases with a spirit unable to rest is starting to have repercussions as negative entities would like to put an end to their activities? That notion has not yet been brought up in the book, but it certainly seems possible after Bullock introduced these two problems. I can’t wait to see what’s coming next.
14 The Spirits of Brady Hall by M.L. Bullock
The last book in this series ended with two interesting subplots that I felt were begging to be turned into full-fledged novels. In both plots, people appeared to be using their psychic gifts to harm either members of the Gulf Coast Paranormal Team or people close to them. This promised a very interesting twist on the team’s standard investigations, but both subplots were dropped completely in this volume.
Instead, we got one of those standard investigations in which angry ghosts were causing problems. The story was interesting, but didn’t stand out in the way those two subplots from the previous book promised to do. Even though one of the ghosts seemed particularly interested in doing harm to Sierra, the threat level never seemed all that serious. The book is mostly important because it brings back the cowardly betrayer, Peter, who keeps getting kicked out of the group and coming back begging to be forgiven.
15 The Gray Lady of Wilmer by M.L. Bullock
The final novel of Gulf Coast Paranormal Season One brings the team into contact with the victims of a serial killer who was active some sixty years earlier. It’s a solid mystery, with a very evil ghost at its root and the ghost is capable of being dangerous to the team. All of this combines for a fast moving and interesting case. It’s not a standout book, but it does feature another solid investigation.