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I had not seen any of the pre-publicity mention that members of Marine Force Recon Team Sidewinder appear in this story, but some of them do. I am just mentioning it, so that any other readers as obsessed as I am about obtaining every possible scrap of story about them will know to read this story. I do not normally read ghost stories, and I only bought this one because Abigail Roux wrote it. So, it was a pleasant surprise to run into Doc, Nick, Digger, and Owen.
The Bone Orchard begins in 1877 as a western, a High Noon-style shootout between the serial killer Boone Jennings, and a US Marshal, Ambrose Shaw. Shaw loses the fight, and dies. Jennings is bound over for trial in San Francisco where the shootout occurred, but is to be tried for a murder committed in far away New York, because the evidence is best in that case. Pinkerton Inspector Ezra Johns arrives in town two weeks after the shootout, to testify in the trial. Johns investigated the New York City murder.
Johns takes a room in the Continental Hotel and Saloon, where the shootout occurred, and it just happens to be the room in which Shaw was taken to die out of sight of paying customers in the saloon in which he was shot. The room is available because even in two weeks, it was acquiring a reputation for being haunted. There was good reason for that; Shaw does haunt the room where he died, and the spot at the bar where he was shot. For reasons never entirely explained, Johns can see Shaw, and the two men hit it off immediately. It turns out they are both lovers of men, not women.
Jennings is tried, convicted, and hanged for the New York City murder of the Irish dock worker, but death does not put an end to his spree of filling his "bone orchard" with victims. Abigail Roux has created her own consistent-within-the-story set of rules to which ghosts must adhere:
They are tied to the spot of their killing (although not necessarily the spot of their death, if they were moved after the fatal incident occurred, but before they have died.) A ghost who loses his focus or his strength will be returned to that spot as though on a long, elastic tether.
A ghost can be confined in (or locked out of) a room or cell, if the ghost lacks the strength to open the door. Strong emotions give a ghost that strength: lust, rage, love, anger, exasperation, desperation, sadness. These emotions give the ghost the strength to physically interact with animate objects, such as knives, ropes, or ceiling fixtures.
A ghost cannot be killed -- the battle between Shaw and Jennings looks likely to go on for all eternity, with Jennings occasionally managing to kill again (including a US President), and Shaw occasionally managing to confine him for hours, days, weeks, or once, a few years. (This reminds me a little of the eternal battle in the closed parallel universe, between evil Lazarus and good Lazarus, doomed to battle forever, with no escape possible. Star Trek, the original series, season one, episode 27, "The Alternative Factor".)
Ghosts are confined to an area very close to the spot of their killing, unless they attach themselves to a living human, as Shaw did to Johns. He could range a block or more from the Continental, when he followed Johns. This enabled Shaw to attend the trial of Jennings, a block from the Continental, at the Palace Hotel. This attachment seems to be mutual, but not physical. There is an exception for strong reasons; Shaw told Johns that a number of the ghosts of individuals killed by Jennings in his rampage across the USA were in the crowd at his hanging. They were able to leave their tethered spots, with the wish to see justice served.
Marine Force Recon Team Sidewinder members showed up in San Francisco to investigate the past of Owen Johns's several times great uncle Ezra Johns, based on entries Ezra Johns had made in his diary at the time of the trial. That brings the story to the present day.
I only found two errors in editing, very good for a book these days. This is a good story; I was pleased to see that Digger is now allowed back out of Louisiana after the restrictions put upon him after the events of Armed & Dangerous, and I was also pleased to see that Owen is far more open-minded regarding same-sex lovers at this time than he was when Ty and Zane came out to the team in Divide & Conquer. Perhaps he is just overwhelmed with the number of them he finds in his life?
Quibble: I have not read up on the law of 1877, but unless it was a federal crime, and a federal court, I don't think that Jennings could be tried in San Francisco for a murder he committed in New York City. One needs to ignore this because it was the MacGuffin used to get Johns to San Francisco to meet Shaw, but still ...