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Ghost Music / Graham Masterton

Severn House Publishers / March 2009
Reviewed by: T.E. Lyons

Pull the lens back far enough and ghost stories have only two concerns: “how do they appear?” and “why do they appear?” Exploration of that how and why can reveal longings unobtainable from the human experience. It can also reveal soul-seizing horror that cannot be dispelled, since its source and possible vindication is forever out of reach. Everything else is in the details — important as those may be to the reading experience.

Graham Masterton knows about all kinds of longings, and how some hope to quench that which is beyond reach, from his experience editing Britain’s Penthouse edition, as well as his many works in horror fiction. His newest hardcover novel reveals its ghost story pedigree in the title. Ghost Music ultimately succeeds by blending measures of many literary skills. For each of the very few elements that are strained, there’s a surfeit of compensating expertise on display.

Gideon Lake is a composer of movie and television scores and advertising jingles. Upon moving to an apartment in Manhattan, he’s swept into an affair with one of the downstairs neighbors. Gideon, a bit of a loner but not to extremes, is shocked at how quickly he has fallen for this woman…and then stunned when she asks him to fly overseas to meet some of her friends. She insists that he shouldn’t be concerned over how her callous husband might react. Once the composer begins to meet these friends – who are all over Europe – he, for quite understandable reasons, begins to lose his composure: In each new setting they visit, he has visions of their hosts being terrorized, blackmailed…and worse.

Details can be so important to dressing up the basic ghost story, and once you’ve read Masterton, it’s difficult to imagine a better hand at them. The full spectrum of high and low culture plays out on these pages, without ever upsetting the pace. Mutual exploitation of classes is a theme here, but it’s never telegraphed to the detriment of a quick-but-involving read, where characters are awed at world-class museums on one page and swearing at overpriced café service the very next. Lake does not fit the model for a composer whose artistic temperament sweeps him into a ghost story boiling with passion. Our “hero” wants to see himself as better than film composer John Williams; his mysterious lover-muse has him pegged when she says “Just because you can tinkle out some catchy little jingle about toilet freshener, you think you’re some kind of modern-day Mahler.”

Around a few unfortunate narrative corners, Masterton’s choices can seem arbitrary. For example, the polar extremes of romantic gothic and torture-porn coexist here — but there’s some imbalance favoring the latter. And a countdown element is an artifice that’s completely unnecessary to the sustained tension of this very good story. Focus your reading instead more on how the author dares to play with expectations. I can’t recall a successful ghost novel that let so much foreshadowing unspool in the early pages. Also, the villainy here ties to the coveting of real estate — while holding the more-traditional, operatic concern of familial revenge as a trump card. To flip these pages is to let yourself be tied to an incorrigible and irresistible string-puller who delights in inverting clichés while thrilling readers.

Purchase Ghost Music by Graham Masterton.

Posted on Monday, May 11, 2009 at 07:00AM by Registered CommenterDark Scribe Magazine in | Comments Off

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