The Presence by Heather Graham


Mass Market Paperback: 432 pages - Publisher: Mira (September 1, 2004) - Language: English - ISBN-10: 077832074X - ISBN-13: 978-0778320746


The Presence

by Heather Graham

Sometimes closing your eyes doesn’t help…

Toni Fraser and her friends think they’ve hit on the ultimate moneymaking plan. Buy an ancient run-down Scottish castle. Turn it itno a tourist destination. Sweep visitors into a reenactment that combines fact and fiction, complete with local history, murder and an imaginary laird named Bruce MacNiall.

But when the castle’s actual owner – a tall, dark and formidable Scot who shares the fictional laird’s name – comes charging in, Toni is shocked. How is it possible he even exists? Toni invented Bruce MacNiall for the performance … yet every particle of his being is eerily familiar.

Soon the group is drawn into a real-life murder mystery; young women are being killed, their bodies dumped nearby. And Toni is having sinister lifelike dreams in which she sees through the eyes of the killer – dreams that suggest a connection to Laird MacNiall. Bruce claims he wants to help catch the murderer. But can Toni trust him … especially when his ghostly double wanders the forest in the black of night?

Review: Interesting but not quite enough.

Toni and her friends from the states, married couple Gina and Ryan, and partners Kevin and David, have visited Scotland a few times and love the land. When the opportunity arose, finding a listing for a run-down castle up for rent with option to buy, the 5, along with Toni’s scottish cousin, Thayer, decided to pool their savings together, buy the castle, fix it up and run tourist tours, using local history, to reenact the scenes from the past – what Toni made up in her head.

Scary part of that: what Toni created from fiction is too close to the truth, for the owner of the castle, Laird Bruce MacNiall, last known descendent of the MacNiall’s, has returned to find his castle overrun by Americans. Now both sides are angry; Bruce for finding people in his castle with legal documents that seem legit, and the group, having been duped. Feared they will be kicked to the curb, Bruce allays their fears in allowing them to stay, at least for six months, working their tours to recoup as much of their losses as possible.

Meanwhile, someone is murdering prostitutes and dumping them in Tillingham forest, which borders MacNaill Castle. Bruce had stumbled upon the first body. Eban, the hired man who sees to the horses and care of the grounds, had stumbled upon the second. When Toni stumbles upon a third body, the first thought is the remains belong to Annie O’Hara, the third girl that has gone missing. However, the body is too well preserved; mummified by the clay and muck the body had been buried in. With DNA testing, the body is confirmed that of Annalise MacNiall, wife of the late Laird. While Annalise had simply disappeared in the history of the castle, rumors ran amok that it had been the Laird that had murdered his wife, believing she had betrayed him. But the tattered cloth found around her neck bears the markings of Grayson Davis, the traitor to the highland people.

With one mystery solved, there are still two more; fraud and murder. But who committed the crimes? And why?


When Bruce first returns to the castle, the animosity between him and Toni is so thick you can feel it. Bruce believes that Toni’s not telling the truth, Toni can’t believe that Bruce is the Laird, the actual owner of the castle. What I wasn’t happy with was the way Toni “jumped” him after seeing the ghost of the original Laird, standing at the foot of her bed, his sword dripping blood. She wants to feel alive and whole, and that’s why she jumped him? And just about every time they fool around, it’s for that same reason. Near the end of the story, he believes she’s seeing things that aren’t real, just dreams, all her imagination, when she admits to what she’s seen. He can’t believe in it, and yet, a decade before, as a cop, he’d been able to track down a murdering husband and wife team and solve a case, somehow by getting into the killer’s mind. Not wanting to remember it, he doesn’t want to believe Toni, which pressed on my nerves. How they can confess they love each other at the end of the story made me angry, for they had nothing to base that love on, as far as I was concerned. Attraction, yes. Love, no. The only real time they spent together was in bed and every discussion turned into a fight, one not believing the other. And they fell in love in there somewhere? I certainly didn’t feel it.

I was surprised to find out that the killer murdering prostitutes was the same person who committed the fraud. I knew who the murderer was, but for the one who committed fraud, I was wrong. The why of it is the usual; jealousy, envy, the killer twisting his beliefs to fit his reasons for revenge.

I do believe, however, that there was too much going on in this story, too many different routes. The historical part of it, I loved. It was like a side benefit, and I loved how the author brought you into the past so that you could see what happened.

I was annoyed by one aspect, however. When Toni was nine, she was able to see things, murders, with details that no one knows but the police. After being badgered and interrogated, Toni had collapsed, shutting down her mind. When she awoke, she’d managed to supress the dreams, the visions, and although she’s having visions of the past Laird, seeing his ghost in the castle, in the forest, she’s having none of the current murders. And yet, it’s believed she’s a medium, specifically? She’d met Adam Harrison of Harrison Investigations when she was a child; he’d left his card and told her to call anytime she needed him. She did, only was unable to talk to him. Instead she gets Darcy, who, along with her husband Matt, make an appearance in Scotland, after being asked not to, and to me, I don’t know why they were even brought into the story. A talk with Adam would have sufficed. No matter what was discussed between Darcy and Toni, or what Darcy said to Bruce, it really didn’t have an impact on the story whatsoever, like a ‘filler’ that didn’t have to be added to the story – wasted space.

I liked the story, but no more than that. I felt disconnected from this one; too much going on, not enough context. If you haven’t read Heather Graham before, don’t start with this one.

Rating: .5


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