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Inhospitable / Marshall Moore

Camphor Press / May 2018
Reviewed by: Vince A. Liaguno

Spooky theatrics, culturally-infused superstitions, conspiratorial wartime collaborations, and even a spectral tribunal fuse to create a ghost story that’s at once as comfortingly familiar as it is wholly unique in Marshall Moore’s first-rate Inhospitable.

Hotel manager Lena Haze leads a comfortably middle-class American life with Marcus, her attorney husband, in North Carolina. When Marcus receives an unexpected inheritance windfall—a mixed-use building in a desirable part of Hong Kong—from an uncle he’s never met, it comes with a caveat: It cannot be sold. With Lena’s background in the hospitality industry, the Haze’s decide to open their dream upscale boutique hotel. Seeking substantial investment for renovations from telecom and real estate tycoons Paul and Jessica Lo, Lena travels ahead to Wan Chai while Marcus closes out their life back in the States. Alone and adjusting to the cultural shock of life in China as a stranger in a strange land, Lena experiences a supernatural encounter—not her first—when she witnesses the seeming suicides of two young people at the outset of the novel. As in any good ghost story, there are no coincidences and the Haze’s soon find themselves in a life and death struggle against a vengeful ghostly presence enacting a decades-old blood feud as their hotel—The Olympia—inches closer to opening.

Moore does an excellent job creating a three-dimensional heroine in Lena, and his supporting cast are no lesser drawn. Of note are Claire, Lena’s newfound fifty-ish friend—herself an expatriate—whose voice is like “rock salt and honey” and who possesses a genteel southern-style sarcasm that drips with a politeness that does little to temper her candor. Isaac, the Lo’s gay son just back from graduate school abroad, is also well-drawn, serving as Lena’s sassy sidekick as the paranormal goings-on ratchet up.

Moore—himself an American expat living in Hong Kong—uses the city not as mere backdrop here but as an essential character. Of particular merit is a scene in which Lena and Isaac traverse into a sketchy area on the outskirts of the city to get more information on the background of their malevolent spirit-villain. Moore uses the idea of the crowd closing in on Lena very effectively, likening it to suffocation. I (like many readers perhaps), having never been to Hong Kong or one of the larger Asian cities, have images from film and TV of throngs of people moving in synchronized determination and Moore deftly captures what it must be like to be caught up in the midst of a moving crowd that large—disoriented, claustrophobic, suffocated. The scene is quite effective and resonates in a visceral way.

Although Inhospitable is sufficiently dark—relentlessly so at times—the novel is not without some wonderful interjections of humor in its scary moments. Consider this brilliantly funny passage from a flashback scene in which a young housekeeper at the North Carolinian hotel Lena formerly managed is fresh from an encounter with the establishment’s resident ghost:

"The next day, one of the housekeepers ran screaming out of 217, having seen the armchair slide across the floor, gaining speed as it approached her. She jumped out of the way at the last second, so it only grazed her, leaving a bruise instead of a fracture. The girl screamed herself hoarse, running down the hall crying and calling out to Jesus for mercy and flailing her hands about and somehow not falling down. Lena heard the ruckus from her office and went running, as did most of the front-line staff. Carlita took the girl (whose name slipped Lena’s mind amid all the uproar) downstairs for tea; Lena and Don reassured alarmed guests that no one had been murdered. 

“She just got some bad news,” Lena explained over and over. With older guests, she added the compulsory Southern punctuation: “Bless her heart.”

To a one, they murmured the expected platitudes: “How awful” and “Poor thing” and the like. Lena spent the next twenty minutes piecing together the story. Danae, the seeming target of the armchair, twice interrupted her account of what had happened by breaking into fresh sobs and entreaties to Jesus. Our Lord and Saviour did not put in an appearance, but pharmaceuticals did: Carlita gave Danae half a Xanax and said Christ would want her to relax.

I am so giving you a raise, Lena thought."

With Inhospitable, Moore successfully challenges readers’ longstanding notions of ghosts in a genuinely unnerving tale of the most haunted hotel since King’s Overlook. His deft handling of multi-dimensional, multi-cultural characters creates the requisite emotional investment, while his judicial layering of rich historical detail in between the scares gives added context to this well-plotted, superbly executed work of speculative fiction.

Purchase Inhospitable by Marshall Moore. 

Posted on Sunday, July 1, 2018 at 12:32PM by Registered CommenterDark Scribe Magazine in | Comments Off

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