Novels about reincarnation don't take up a large category. The dual scenarios - past and present - can help these works branch out to a wider readership, though, and historical events can impose on present-day happenings more directly than they can in a straightforward historical novel. That's one reason I like them.
As you can surmise from the cover art, Sarah Kernochan's Jane Was Here takes the form of a supernatural thriller. When a young woman calling herself Jane arrives in the glass factory town of Graynier, Massachusetts, everyone whose life she touches finds their life transformed in some way. Jane has memories of Graynier and says she's lived there before, though it no longer looks quite the way she remembers.
Not everyone is keen on having Jane around, especially when food starts disappearing from people's houses. Brett Sampson is the exception. A summer resident trying to reconnect with his son, he feels unexpectedly protective towards Jane and gives her a place to stay in his rented Victorian home (to his son's dismay). The town floozy and a deceitful handyman get drawn into Jane's web after her sudden appearance in the middle of the road leads to a car accident. The children of an Indian family who owns the local motel get entangled in the mix, too.
Brett starts researching who Jane really is, as well as who she claims to be. There are many subplots, but everything is sharply delineated amid the rising suspense. As Jane slowly regains what seem to be memories of a tragic past life, she unwittingly sets in motion a plan to exact revenge on those who wronged her long ago.
By now you may be wondering about the book's historical aspect. Without giving too much away: Part 2 reveals the intimate letters of an impressionable 19th-century young woman who pursues her avid interest in an odd sect and its charismatic representative. "Gabriel Nation" is fictional, but with so many other peculiar religious revivals sprouting up in 1850s America, it fits right in.
Jane Was Here can be as quirky and eccentric as the people who inhabit its pages. The author has obviously poured a lot of attention into her characters, although she seems to care for them more than they care for each other (they aren't exactly society's most upstanding citizens). Jane's formality and propriety contrasts well with their careless lifestyles, though, and although I wasn't chilled by the creepy storyline, I followed it with great interest. Readers who enjoyed Brunonia Barry's The Lace Reader and M. J. Rose's Reincarnationist series may want to give this one a close look, too.
Jane Was Here was published by Grey Swan Press in June at $24.95 (hb, 296pp).