Review by Lara Tewes, Assistant Director of Prospect Development & Research, Northwell Health Foundation
What We are Reviewing: “Tuesday Mooney Talks to Ghosts,” by Kate Racculia (Fiction)
How We Learned About it: Read as part of the Northwell Health Foundation Book Club
In “Tuesday Mooney Talks to Ghosts,” Kate Racculia assembles a cast of eclectic characters, including Tuesday, an introverted prospect researcher fond of the occult and 90s music; Dex, a performing arts alumnus turned finance professional; Dory, a teenage neighbor and friend in search of a role model; Archie, a mysterious and handsome billionaire’s heir; and Abby Hobbs, a ghost/hallucination of Tuesday’s childhood friend. As the story unfolds, Tuesday and the others become embroiled in a citywide scavenger hunt in Boston, designed by a recently departed and wildly eccentric billionaire. But there is more than meets the eye when it comes to the Edgar Allan Poe-themed riddles, and as the players progress, they are forced to face their pasts and their individual fears. It is Ellen Raskin’s “The Westing Game” meets Byron Preiss’s “The Secret,” wrapped into a roller coaster of a novel.
Key Takeaways (Things I Loved About the Book):
This is perhaps the first instance where one of our own is featured as the protagonist in a novel. Seeing a book written from the perspective of a researcher was both exciting and nerve-wracking. Potentially thousands of readers would be introduced to our profession in a very personal way. I could not help but wonder, what qualities would the protagonist possess and how much of our jobs would be shown in the book? “Tuesday Mooney Talks to Ghosts” offers a detailed character study of a fictional but realistic prospect researcher. Such an introduction would be impossible in a different medium.
Like most of us, Tuesday Mooney stumbled into this profession by accident, following a stint in a different industry — in her case, finance. Like most researchers, Tuesday is curious and tenacious, with a filing cabinet of a memory and an uncanny ease for making connections. She is almost the perfect researcher, if not for her Achilles heel. (No, I’m not telling you what it is.) Racculia’s description of a prospect researcher’s function is accurate and expressed. “Your mission as a prospect researcher … is to pay attention to the details. To notice and gather facts. To interpret those facts so that you can make logical leaps. A prospect researcher is one-part private detective, one-part property assessor, one-part gossip columnist, and one-part witch.” Although I don’t associate myself as a witch, the rest of that description is fairly accurate.
During the novel’s narrative, Racculia also reflects on some of the more controversial aspects of the job, such as confidentiality, ethics and social perception. While Tuesday is obviously a great researcher, Racculia uses her to touch on concerns very particular to those in the health care industry. She reveals how easily the lines can be blurred between what is ethical and what is a misuse of data. Researchers must follow Apra’s ethical standards, their organization’s ethical standards, donors’ bill of rights and HIPAA rules. While available patient data varies from hospital to hospital, we need to use excellent judgement to determine if we should use it. We also must be very careful as to how or if we communicate it to our frontline colleagues. While sharing patient information may help a gift officer close a gift, it may also be not be appropriate to include in written documentation. Thankfully, Racculia also uses this book to illustrate that there are serious repercussions for violating ethical codes and laws.
Racculia uses Tuesday’s budding friendships to illustrate the numerous misconceptions that surround our profession. Our careers have periodically been characterized as being “creepy” or “borderline stalker” in news publication over the years. I wish that Racculia had incorporated an episode where Tuesday or another’s research led to a seven-figure gift closing. It would have illustrated the inherent value of prospect development in fundraising work. “Tuesday Mooney Talks to Ghosts” shows how talented prospect development professionals are more friendly than how periodic news articles picture them to be.
There is no end to Racculia’s encyclopedic knowledge of 90s pop-culture, and “Tuesday Mooney Talks to Ghosts” is packed with them. The references range from music to movies, television and literature. Having grown-up in the 80s and 90s, I loved the homage to Mulder and Scully from “The X-Files” and references to “Twin Peaks.” I am certainly glad I was not the only child out there reading Deborah and James Howe’s Bunnicula book series — for a romp down memory lane, check out “Bunnicula Meets Edgar Allan Crow.”
Racculia deftly weaves other pop culture references in through her characters’ names, the two most obvious being Tuesday herself and Vincent Pryce. However, be on the lookout for other less obvious ones, including the Mooninite Panic of 2007 and a housecat named Gunnar — perhaps named for Gunnar Hansen from Texas Chainsaw Massacre. And if you are not a child of the 80s or 90s, keep post-its handy so you can flag references and go down all the relevant rabbit holes.
Having lived and worked in Boston for years, Racculia has some great knowledge of the city’s history, both well-known facts and hidden gems. In this book, you get a special mixture of both. The story takes readers on a mini tour of Boston, giving them a peak at the city’s subway, Boston Public Library, Edgar Allan Poe’s birthplace and an underground secret theater. Quick Google image searches allow for deeper understanding and clarifications of scene settings, as well as new rabbit holes to explore and learn more history about places and artifacts.
If I Could Interview the Author I Would Ask:
The burning question of “Tuesday Mooney Talks to Ghosts” centers around Abby Hobbs’s fate and whether Tuesday is communicating with a real ghost or a psychic manifestation to cope with loss and guilt. There seems to be equal evidence for both. Whichever is true, Agatha Christie has said that you write best when you write in your own voice, and Racculia weaves together her trademark witty quips while subtly revealing her characters’ inner lives and motivations.
The final scene at the haunted house recalls the final scene in the 90s movie, “Clue.” What is special about “Clue” is that there were three different endings. Similarly, this book’s final scene could have had several final outcomes. After all the subterfuge and players involved in solving the mystery, I wonder if Racculia wrote a different ending before publishing, or if there are optional endings to be explored. Granted those endings may not won’t wrap things up as satisfyingly and neatly; however, I can’t help but wonder what is possible.
Lastly, why Edgar Allan Poe? Of all Boston’s illustrious past residents, why the cantankerous Edgar Allan Poe?