Without a doubt, Curtis D. Vick’s Shadows in Jerome (2003) is a terrific read for acquiring a sense of place and history. Jerome, Arizona is a popular tourist destination, a town that plummeted from a population high of 15,000 in its copper-mining heyday to a low of 50. It was reborn with the help of artists who re-populated the mountainside city. Vick gets the details of the current town and its history right.
A couple—a freelance photographer who has picked up in his travels a young woman who likes the feel of wind in her hair—enter Jerome in their Volkswagen convertible “Bug,” and intend to settle for a month while he takes pictures of the interesting buildings and places and she works as a waitress. Mike meets a retired photographer at the local bar, Cyrus, who takes him under his wing and provides an opportunity for the two of them to review history and stories of the “ghost town.” Ghost is the key word here, for unbeknownst to the trio, the ghost of Madeleine Morgan haunts one of the old houses, tortured by the untimely death of her younger sister Angie in an accident when the car she was driving missed a curve on the dangerous roads of Jerome. Was it truly an accident?
The two stories in the novel—the contemporary one and the one set in the early part of the 20th century—intertwine, even to the point of Madeline and Mike having a sexual encounter. In fact, there are fairly graphic sexual scenes in the novel as well as horror. All of the characters are in some turmoil. Will they find peace at the end? Or will Mike and Julia be victims of an agonized and vengeful spirit.
The town of Jerome rests on the steep hillside of Mingus Mountain; sometimes, it didn’t rest at all as the dynamiting of the open pit copper mine sent some buildings—like the jail—more than 200 feet down the hillside. Tourists visiting the ghost town will definitely exercise their calf muscles walking up and down steep stairs that connect the streets. Houses and stores may have a front entrance on one street and a basement entrance on a lower street. The road—Highway 89A—which winds from Jerome to the territorial capital of Prescott is breathtaking, sometimes literally for those who are acrophobic.
The state historical park of Jerome focuses on the mine itself, but in the “up” town area, shops, restaurants, and wineries dominate. In fact, it was at the window of a closed bookstore that I discovered Shadows in Jerome and ordered it for my Kindle. As is so often the case with self-published novels, a good editor would have been helpful. Vick has another Arizona novel, The Outdweller, set in the Superstition Mountains. For readers who prefer their history in a package of fiction, it would be hard to go wrong with Shadows in Jerome.