Synopses & Reviews
In this tantalizing tale of Victorian ghost stories and family secrets, timid, solitary librarian Gerard Freeman lives for just two things: his elusive pen pal Alice and a story he found hidden in his mother's drawer years ago. Written by his great-grandmother Viola, it hints at his mother's role in a sinister crime. As he discovers more of Viola's chilling tales, he realizes that they might hold the key to finding Alice and unveiling his family's mystery-or will they bring him the untimely death they seem to foretell?
Harwood's astonishing, assured debut shows us just how dangerous family skeletons-and stories-can be.
"Sly nods to spooky literary spinsters Henry James's Miss Jessel and Dickens's Miss Havisham set the tone for this confident debut, a gothic suspense novel with a metatextual spin. Gerard Freeman grows up on the windswept southern coast of Australia in the late 20th century with a controlling mother strangely silent about the details of her childhood in England. His only solace is steadfast English pen friend, Alice, to whom he confides everything. What was Gerard's mother, Phyllis, hoping to escape when she left England? The protagonist slowly pieces together his mother's past with the aid of short stories written by his great-grandmother, Viola. These cunning tales, filled with supernatural occurrences and sances, are seamlessly embedded in the main narrative, offering Gerard and readers enticing clues into his troubled family's history. After Phyllis's death, her newly liberated son travels to England, hoping to learn more and to pursue elusive Alice. As he searches through the country house his mother inhabited long ago, Gerard finds past and present fusing in horrifying fashion. In the hands of a lesser novelist, sustaining several plot lines might have been difficult. But the novel links textual investigation and sublimated passion, building to a satisfying, unexpected ending. Agent, Kathleen Anderson. (July) Forecast: This A.S. Byatt lite offering will appeal to the A&E set and to horror/suspense readers looking for something with a literary edge. " Publishers Weekly (Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"A compulsively readable, sturdily plotted mystery....A wonderful debut, evoking a century's worth of family history, by a multitalented and artistically ambidextrous newcomer." Kirkus Reviews
"Harwood's debut is a haunting literary gothic....The ghost stories at the heart of this book are lyrical, labyrinthine tales that feel simultaneously fresh and familiar, making this an atmospheric paranormal thriller with many surprises." Misha Stone, Booklist
"As a mystery, The Ghost Writer is irresistible, pushing all the genre's gothic buttons and casting a convincingly Dickensian pall." The Guardian (U.K.)
"An elegant homage to the Victorian ghost story tradition. Like Dickens's The Pickwick Papers, Harwood makes your flesh creep." The Times of London
"An exceptionally inventive first novel." The Weekend Australian
"Spooky and gripping, The Ghost Writer by debut novelist John Harwood breaks onto the fiction scene with a chilling tale sure to make your spine shiver on even the hottest summer day." Catherine Parnell, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
"[I]ntricate and engrossing...Harwood raises the ghost of the Victorian ghost story, goosing the action with a modern spin....[O]ne ghoulishly absorbing read. (Grade: B+)" Jennifer Reese, Entertainment Weekly
"[S]o cunningly plotted and so smartly written that I was happy to swallow its hokum whole....[I]t works because you can't help being dazzled by Harwood's inventiveness, and especially by his sure-footed mastery of prose style." Charles Matthews, San Jose Mercury News
"You could label some elements of John Harwood's ghost story hokey: It's got veiled specters, accursed paintings, a big old deserted house with a sinister basement. But like one of those gifted cooks who can somehow turn a can of tuna and a handful of rice into a savory dish, Harwood knows how to spin shivers and nerves out of unpromisingly familiar material." Laura Miller, Salon.com
(read the entire Salon.com review
Haunted by his mother's mysterious death, timid, solitary Gerard Freeman lives for two things: his elusive pen pal and the secret manuscript that his mother gave her life to protect. Suspecting that something within that manuscript holds the key to his mother's terrified refusal to return to her childhood home, Gerard sets out to unveil the mystery shrouding his family. What he discovers is a sinister ghost story written by his great-grandmother that implicates his mother in a devastating family tragedy. The more he reads, the more he understands his mother's cryptic warning: "One of them came true..."
Combining the intricate literary playfulness of Possession with the heart-racing suspense of The Others, Harwood's astonishingly assured debut simmers with spellbinding horror and dark intrigue.
Harwood's tantalizing tale of suspense and family secrets weaves Victorian ghost stories into the present where they start to come true. This astonishing, assured debut shows just how dangerous family skeletons and stories can be.
About the Author
John Harwood is the author of two previous novels of Victorian Gothic suspense. Aside from fiction, his published work includes biography, poetry, political journalism and literary history. His acclaimed first novel, The Ghost Writer, won the International Horror Guild's First Novel Award. He lives in Hobart, Australia.