Meet the Dead this Halloween with Spirit Fire

Susan McCauley, a Houston teacher, has a fantastic middle grade horror series.
Susan McCauley, a Houston teacher, has a fantastic middle grade horror series. Photo by Tracey Ivy
Halloween is a time to snuggle up in a comfy chair and read ghost stories. Houston horror author Susan McCauley has a wonderful set in her Ghost Hunters series. The latest book, Sprit Fire, was just released in September.

“I always wanted to write a middle grade ghost story,” she says. “I worked in a boy’s school in London that had a haunted library. I thought they were just stories to keep the kids out, but the staff would also talk about encounters.”
Spirit Fire cover

McCauley’s world in an interesting take on the urban fantasy setting. In her universe, spiritualists around the turn of the last century accidentally opened a door between the living and the dead that they could not close, and the world was suddenly swarmed with specters almost like a plague. Some of these spirits cause immense damage, and everything from hospitals to computer equipment has to be built with wards and sacred symbols incorporated to keep out ghosts.

It was also necessary to build a corps of psychics, people who could sense the dead and help them move to the other side. McCauley’s hero is a twelve-year-old boy named Alex who has become the youngest psychic in history following a tragic car crash and the loss of his mom. Teamed up with a cranky retired veteran psychic who doubles as a father figure and two precocious friends who use technology to aid him in his investigations, the stage is set for all kinds of spooky adventures.

Spirit Fire, like the rest of the series, is set in the perpetually haunted city of New Orleans. Alex finds himself investigating a fire at a café that is more than it appears. Guided by the ghost of a young, frightened girl, he has to contend with vengeful undead prisoners who have gained the ability to start fires all over the city. As the Big Easy burns, Alex and his friends dig through the city’s tortured history to right the wrongs that were done in the past.

The series is something that has lived in McCauley’s head for a long time. As a child, she was both intrigued and repulsed by the Haunted Mansion ride at Disneyland, itself a replica of a Southern mansion. More than that, she’s determined to use her middle grade fictions series to give kids something to contextualize loss with.

“I think it’s important for kids to think about what might happen to people when they die, but I do want it to be fun,” she says. “It helps for them to have an example of how life can go on if someone they love dies.

The latest tale is a gripping, fascinating read full of adventure and a mature understanding of grief. While the book is occasionally repetitive and Alex falls unconscious it seems every other chapter, there is an invigorating story of friendship and coming of age in the pages. McCauley has a deft eye for ghostly horror and is also gifted when it comes to the anxiety and terror that is slowly entering the adult world. Alex’s good-hearted journey through a city of specters trying to be of help makes him an instantly likable hero, and the intricate world-building McCauley has put into her series keeps even the most frightening of the dead very believable. There’s hardly a better option if you want to introduce your kids to horror and support a local author at the same time.

Ghost Hunters: Spirit Fire
By Susan McCauley
251 PP

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Jef Rouner (not cis, he/him) is a contributing writer who covers politics, pop culture, social justice, video games, and online behavior. He is often a professional annoyance to the ignorant and hurtful.
Contact: Jef Rouner