Title: The Ghost Writer
Author: John Harwood
Release Date: July 5, 2004
Publisher: Mariner Books
Rating: 4 out of 5
From the dust jacket:
Growing up in a small Australian town, Gerard Freeman loves to hear his mother talk about her idyllic childhood in an English country manor. But she swears that she will never return to England, and refuses to tell him what happened to her family, though she is clearly terrified of some invisible yet ever-present threat. One hot afternoon, he waits until she is napping, then creeps into her bedroom to break open the drawer that’s always locked, the one that he hopes holds all her secrets. . .
Twenty years later, Gerard has not left home – he works as a librarian – but he lives for just two things: his English penfriend Alice, for whom he yearns with all his heart, and the ghost story he found in his mother’s drawer all those years ago. Written by his great-grandmother Viola, it hints at the terrible crime that haunted his mother, and, finally, destroyed her. And as Viola’s chilling tales lead him to London, Gerard realizes that the stories might hold the key to finding Alice as well as unveiling his family’s mystery – or are they leading him directly to the untimely death they seem to foretell?
As I’ve said before, I love gothic mysteries. I read John Harwood’s second mystery, The Seance [review], not too long ago and absolutely loved it. Of course, I had to immediately go and find his debut novel The Ghost Writer so I could read that one as well. While I enjoyed both novels, I’d have to say The Seance [review] is the stronger of the two. However, The Ghost Writer is still a very interesting read that I had trouble putting down.
One interesting factoid about The Ghost Writer is the fact that it’s set in the present day, rather than in the 1800’s as most gothic mysteries are. It adds something extra to the novel, though with the atmospheric details, it’s easy to forget what time period the main character is actually in.
There are ghost stories within The Ghost Writer, stories that one of the characters wrote. Some of these are really interesting and definitely add to the overall atmosphere of the book. Some of them are semi-irritating distractions. Only one of these stories is important to the overall novel, so it’s not necessary to read all of them. I’m not going to spoil which one you HAVE to read in this review though; I feel like skipping one while reading would detract from the book’s atmosphere.
The ending is…well, it’s interesting. I can’t say I saw it coming, which is a great thing in a mystery. It’s definitely a bit confusing and might require a re-read, but it’s marvelous once you understand the twist! In fact, this would be a great book club book just so you can discuss your interpretation of the ending with other people! (As I was reading through other reviews, people said that the ending was disappointing and left the reader hanging – I don’t think that’s the case. It’s just that the ending takes close reading, you’ll get it if you read it carefully!)
The Ghost Writer is a great gothic mystery. It’s much more creepy than The Seance[review]; I actually recommend it more to gothic mystery lovers than casual fans of the genre. If you’re looking for a good gothic mystery as an introduction, I’d definitely go with The Seance [review]. However, I still enjoyed The Ghost Writer very much and recommend it – John Harwood is a wonderful writer, and I can’t wait to see what he comes up with next.