Book Review: Ghosts of Gotham
WARNING – This review may contain spoilers
Lionel Page is a professional debunker, a Chicago-based journalist who has made it is life’s work to hunt down fake psychics and charlatan spiritualists, and reveal them for the frauds that they are. But when he’s hired by a rich recluse for what initially appears to be a simple job he gets far more than he expected, including his first taste of real magic.
Lionel’s problems start when a cub reporter threatens to uncover the truth of his dark past. Luckily for Lionel, the aforementioned recluse, Ms. Regina Dunkle, offers to keep his backstory under wraps if he does one little thing for her – fly to New York and confirm the authenticity of a previously lost manuscript by none other than Edgar Allen Poe. Expecting this to take no more than a day or two, Lionel jets off to the Big Apple and soon finds himself walking into a pretty gruesome crime scene. His day gets even more complicated when he finds out that the cub reporter in Chicago has been found murdered, and Lionel was the last person known to have seen him.
Thus begins a hectic rollercoaster ride of supernatural noir. Joining Lionel on the ride is Madison Hannah, a kick-ass femme fatale with a secret past of her own, and between the two of them they gradually uncover a plot that threatens the entire world.
I’ll admit it took a few chapters for me to get into this book, but once the story started rolling it grabbed me by the throat and refused to let go. It’s an insanely fun book that pulls together a number of disparate supernatural elements and turns them into a cohesive whole. There are witches who derive their magic from their worship of (and pacts with) the goddess Hekate, ghouls who live and thrive beneath the streets of New York, and a necromancer whose main goal seems to be to open a portal to another, unspecified realm (though from the way I read it I get the impression that the Great Old Ones or similar may be involved in some way).
The plot of this novel relies very heavily on coincidences. The shadowy figure behind the backstory death of Lionel’s mum turns out to be the main antagonist. Madison and Lionel are both in New York on the same mission, and just happen to end up at the same diner, the same party, the same crime scene. Lionel is pointed in the direction of a secondary character who just happens to be an old contact of Madison’s. Coincidence piles up on top of happenstance on top of serendipity, so much so that it’s not that surprising when we find out that it was all part of a Grand Plan set up many years before. The thing is, this really didn’t spoil the story for me. If anything it made it more enjoyable, the author deliberately pulling back the curtain to show us how it all works. Sometimes this doesn’t work, but here it works in spades.
Stylistically the prose owes a lot to classic pulp noir. There’s a hint of hardboiled detective in Lionel’s make-up, and Madison very much epitomises femme fatale (especially when you find out her backstory), but Schaefer has given the whole a decidedly modern spin. If you’re a fan of modern urban fantasy with neo-noir undertones then this is definitely a book you’ll enjoy. I’m giving it a solid four out of five stars, and really hope there’s going to be a sequel or several in the future.