Review: Ghost Story by GV Pearce
The latest book from Improbable Press gives us a piquant blend of love story, character study and spoooookiness.
This Holmes/Watson tale has an original contemporary London/York setting and opens with John and Sherlock, married for several months now, on what ought to be a belated honeymoon but which John knows to be a case – a case which Sherlock said he wasn’t pursuing. Already it’s clear that while they love and adore each other, there’s rockiness ahead.
Sherlock’s not the only one keeping secrets, however. From the very first chapter we know that John sees ghosts, and has done since he was a child. He can’t tell anyone – people would think him unbalanced – so he avoids thinking about it whenever possible. That is not as often as he’d like.
Ghost Story is both a great little Holmesian mystery about the missing Gloria Evans: it’s a fantastically spooky tale of a man haunted by ghosts and the traumas of his past; his relationship with a man who seems equal parts obliviousness and devotion; and a study of the cracks in a loving relationship when the deceptions pile up, whatever the motivations.
The unravelling of those secrets and why they’re being kept are part of a beautifully texture of a low-key case that feels very intense in terms of its impact.
A couple of the scenes are deeply affecting and gorgeously evocative. Gloria’a abandoned flat, where greenery has invaded the spaces; the streets and buildings of York; the banks of a river; the flashbacks to John’s childhood and the attack on the ambulance convoy in Afghanistan – all of these are described so splendidly that I could almost scent the atmosphere – Gloria’s flat particularly.
One of the many things I love about Ghost Story is how it becomes gradually clear that the spirits that John encounters are not the only ghosts of the title.
John and Sherlock are both a little ghost-like themselves, not quite anchored in the world or entirely present for each other. Sherlock flits in and out of John’s life for a while, through the flashbacks of how they met and their first case, and he still keeps secrets and disappears without explanation. At the same time, in avoiding confrontation and acceptance of his unwanted gift, and the secret that he’s therefore keeping himself, combined with the effects of his war injuries, John is absent in key ways too.
It’s a beautiful theme that threads through the whole and makes the conclusion – in which the resolutions for the hauntings and John and Sherlock’s relationship are linked – particularly satisfying.
GV Pearce has written us a wonderfully atmospheric, beautifully paced book – it may take a little time for case/relationship/ghostiness to come to a head, but every step is deeply involving and the reader is fully engaged with wondering how all the elements will turn out. It is in turns poignant, charming, funny and unsettling, but it’s deftly wound together in a conclusion that satisfies without being heavy handed.
I hope Pearce considers another book for Improbable Press – in this universe or any other they care to write in. I’ll pounce on it the minute I can!
Buy Ghost Story