Saturday, August 04, 2007

Book Review: "Ghostwalk"

Rebecca Stott's first novel, Ghostwalk (the debut book from Spiegel & Grau, a new imprint from Random House) is meant to be a 'literary thriller,' theoretically blending some historical mystery with a modern solution. In this case, a series of mysterious murders in seventeenth-century Cambridge appear to be recurring in 2002, just as narrator Lydia Brooke is ghostwriting the last two concluding chapters of a book which claims to solve the earlier killings.

Stott, a fine historian, should have stuck to writing history. As a novel, this book just doesn't work. I did manage to get through it after threatening repeatedly to stop reading after each of the first ten chapters or so, but I think it was almost entirely pure curiousity about how much worse the novel could get that kept me going. The writing improves as the book progresses (the first several chapters are incredibly choppy), but the abrupt, mid-chapters shifts into second person ("you did this," "then you said" &c.) continue throughout.

This book stretched my believability to its breaking point: it didn't take long for me to be sick of the perceived supernatural elements, the 'voices from the grave,' and the intervening, angry ghosts (spirits, whatever) of Cambridge past. The characters are superficial and frankly all a bit too weird for comfort, and Stott's strange literary rip-offs were eye-rollingly silly (Sergeant Cuff, taken directly from Collins' The Moonstone being the example that comes immediately to mind). Finally, Stott's 'twist' manufactured to connect the killings is not only the exact one you'd expect by about page 75, but is also just barely pulled off.

The most interesting portions of this book were the draft sections of the near-finished scholarly manuscript (the one Lydia's ghostwriting) that Stott threw in as background. She ought to have written that book instead.