I love a classic ghost story. Creepy old house. Trapped souls. Likable characters with no idea what they are getting themselves into. Michael Phillip Cash’s THE FLIP has all of this and more. Brad and Julie are a young married couple trying to make a living flipping houses. This is no early-morning infomercial glamour couple. Brad, a former soldier back from Afghanistan, is a guy from a humble background trying to find a place for himself. Julie is a little more upmarket–surface details matter to her–but she’s working full time to support them until the flipping business takes off. Buying the Hemmings place, a dilapidated mansion on Long Island’s north shore, is her idea. Brad holds a lot of resentment about being talked into it. This resentment fuels much of the drama, as the energies at large in the house amplify and twist his negative feelings. There are times when I doubted whether Brad and Julie’s marriage would survive.
The two ghosts, Tessa and Gerald, hail from the era of the American Civil War. They have their own romantic drama that has been playing out. These phantoms start out a bit on the campy side, especially man-eating Tessa, but they develop their own charm over the course of the novel. There are also other supernatural beings in the house. The Sentinels seem to be guardians of some sort, but their exact nature and function, and why they are so interested in Brad and Julie, is never made quite clear. Cash does a great job creating a thick, menacing atmosphere. There’s a sense that many layers of supernatural activity inhabit the house…that the structure is literally alive with history.
I do wish THE FLIP was longer. It isn’t that the pacing is rushed, but rather that there’s too much story, too many tantalizing plot threads left unexplored. At one point, Cash alternates his chapters between the present day and the Civil War. We get to see Tessa and Gerald alive, which is great, but it opens up the plot in a way that, for me, is too quickly resolved. I would have preferred he either kept us in the present and left the ghosts’ pasts more of a mystery, or added thirty pages to the book so that past and present seemed more in balance.
Taken as a whole, THE FLIP is a fantastic book, and The Hemmings Place is the sort of house I’d love to visit again and again.