Lost Souls of Lakewood is an unusual book in many ways.
While it can be classified as a novel and is narrated by a ghost, it’s a mostly historically accurate account that reveals heretofore undisclosed information about the Blaylock estate.
Author Charlie Hodge made the right call in expanding the scope of the story to encompass the pre- and post-Blaylock eras, for this is where the book’s greatest value is found.
The story begins not with Blaylock himself (who doesn’t show up until page 68) nor with the mansion’s construction (not until page 128) but rather hundreds of years ago with a Sinixt teen on a vision quest.
We are then introduced to several owners of the property who came before Blaylock, including Newton Wolverton, a man who counted Abraham Lincoln, Alexander Graham Bell, and Thomas Edison as acquaintances. Wolverton is largely forgotten in the West Kootenay, but in this book, he’s given his due.
We also get a better sense than in any previous work of Cliff Chase, the California con artist who bought the mansion and made a number of questionable additions and alterations before vanishing in 1985 with creditors bearing down on him.
Equally fascinating is the long list of people who subsequently expressed interest in buying the mansion, with varying degrees of seriousness. As Hodge reveals, moving such a unique asset proved incredibly difficult. Some would-be purchasers were con artists like Chase, while others were just tire-kickers, and a few came close but couldn’t put the financing together.
Then there is Blaylock himself. For all he accomplished in business, he remains an enigmatic figure as a person. Writing from a ghost’s point of view lets Hodge speculate on Blaylock’s thoughts and motives. In the book, Blaylock is haunted figuratively and literally by Ginger Goodwin, the union leader whose untimely demise he may have precipitated.
The paranormal angle extends to ghost tales told by humans and human tales told by ghosts. While some readers might find the supernatural stuff superfluous, it does give the narrator a distinct voice. Officially, he’s the Keeper of Names — which he likens to a spectral Walmart greeter. He’s assigned to do intake interviews with the newly deceased at a portal that happens to be on the Blaylock estate.
We gather he’s been there for eons and he’s able to share the many things he’s witnessed, but he’s not omniscient, relying on real-life history books to fill in gaps in his knowledge. (Possibly he’s a patron of the Nelson Public Library in his spare time.)
Hodge keeps us guessing at the narrator’s Earthly identity until the last page.
Tighter editing might have caught a few bad typos and excised some gratuitous descriptions of Kathleen Blaylock’s anatomy. But on the whole, Hodge writes with panache, making this book an intriguing and entertaining blend of history and mystery.