A once-fashionable now fading resort hotel. A spinster aunt living in the attic. Dirt roads that lead to dead ends. A house full of secrets and old, dusty furnishings, uninhabited for almost half a century. A twelve-year-old girl with a passion for double-chocolate ice-cream sodas, and decaying lake-fronts, and an obsession with the death by drowning of another young girl, forty years before. Hotel Paradise is a delicate yet excruciating view of the pettiness and cruelty of small town America. It is a look at the difficult decisions a young girl must make on her way to becoming an adult and the choices she must make between right and wrong, between love and truth, between life and death.
Grimes's mystery-spinning skills take a backseat to character development and human relationships in her second, quite appealing "literary'' novel (after The End of the Pier). She etches an enchanting portrait of spunky Emma Graham, the 12-year-old narrator, an incorrigibly inquisitive girl with a love of rib-sticking food. Tethered to table-waiting responsibilities in the family's frayed-at-the-edges resort hotel, Emma's only connection to youngsters her age is her consuming interest in the death by drowning of another 12-year-old girl 40 years ago: wearing a party dress, Mary-Evelyn Devereau apparently fell from a rowboat on nearby Spirit Lake in the middle of the night. Cleverly manipulating crotchety old ladies and backwoodsy old men in her pursuit of answers, Emma discovers that Mary-Evelyn's aunt Rose ran off with Ben Queen. The recent murder of their daughter, Fern Queen, and the spectral presence of a girl resembling the deceased Rose compound Emma's quest. Emma's take on the colorful characters in her small-town world--from the "bedeviled by silence" retarded Wood brothers to her great aunt Aurora, who lives on gin and fried chicken delivered by hotel dumbwaiter--makes this both a provocative study of lonely people and a delightful read. The suspense is value-added.