…there’s often a crime. After all, ghosts are people who died, and not all those deaths are natural.
To read more about this rather weird subject, head for Ellie Sisson’s blog, where she’s been kind enough to lend me a soapbox and hand me a microphone for my latest “guest ghost post”.
This time it’s about the deaths, natural or otherwise, of some of the resident spirits in ‘Got Ghosts?’, and the whole issue of crime in paranormal fiction. I hope you enjoy it!
Bit of an odd one, this. It’s the last (so far) in the Ripley series about a charming psychopath, the first of which was made into the film The Talented Mr Ripley starring Matt Damon. I’d never tried Highsmith before and wanted to read one of the books to see whether there was as much of a homoerotic element in them as there was in the film, and the answer is yes, I think there probably is, although it’s kept extremely subtle.
The story was exciting – a psychological thriller told, tautly, from the villain’s point of view. Highsmith is very good at getting right inside her main character’s head and making all his actions seem totally logical and reasonable, even when they amount to murder, which makes for a chillingly good read.
The style, however, is strange. The author uses character names rather than pronouns almost exclusively, which leads to paragraphs such as ‘Well, well, Tom thought, realizing that his heart was beating faster than usual. Due to anger? Surprise? Not fear, Tom told himself.’ After a while the repetition becomes really noticeable, to the extent that it gets in the way of the story. A shame, as otherwise I think I’d have really enjoyed the book.
In spite of the slightly lurid title this is actually a murder mystery novel, not erotica! Stephen Booth has written a series (four at the last count) of whodunnits set in the English Peak District, a wild and mountainous region of the Midlands where making a living is as hard as the landscape. Booth captures the atmosphere of the area wonderfully; his descriptions are vivid and bring the gritstone hillsides and bleak moorland, the drystone walls and huddled farms and fields of sheep hurtling to life off the page.
His characters are excellent too – real people with just enough depth and darkness to be interesting; and his hero Ben Cooper, a young detective constable with an encyclopaedic knowledge of the local area and its people, is a refreshing change from all those maverick old coppers like Morse and Frost.
In this book Cooper has to investigate the death of a woman found stabbed to death amongst a circle of standing stones on the moors (the nine ‘virgins’ of the title) and his way to the truth is nicely strewn with obstacles including an earlier victim who survived but lost her memory, a suspect who may have been framed, a partner who admits to tampering with evidence, and a whole boat-load of red herrings. The denouement is exciting with just the right mix of ‘I never expected that’ and ‘oh yes, of course’. My only criticism is that it’s left almost wholly to the reader to work out who did what and why. Whilst I’m no fan of the kind of whodunnits where the detective lectures the suspects in the library about how clever he’s been, this smacked a little too much of leading the readers into a muddy field and abandoning them there.
There’s some controversial material in the book and Booth doesn’t shy away from including up-to-the-minute topics like child abuse, or from the occasional graphic description of gore. Overall, though, his skill as a story teller makes this seem less like a whodunnit and more like a mainstream novel that just happens to be about crime.