by Tony Jones
“Don’t confuse this novel with a simple ghost story,
it has layers which go much deeper”
Simon Bestwick’s latest novel was a real change of pace and direction, having really enjoyed two of his previous books I was looking forward to what he would dream up next. ‘The Feast of all Souls’ certainly did not disappoint and although I found it to be quite an odd book, it was an entertaining read which was far from predictable. The novel starts like a fairly traditional ghost story with a woman buying a new house in the outskirts of Manchester. This is against her parent’s wishes, as she is recovering from the loss of a child and has been suffering from depression and related illnesses.
Not long after moving into the big house Alice begins to hear and see things, very unfriendly and seemingly dangerous ghosts of very dishevelled looking children. For a spell the reader is unsure whether they are real or not and the novel has atmosphere and a pretty good ghost story seems in the making. However, instead ‘The Feast of all Souls’ heads off into unpredictable areas as Alice experiences weird time shifts which temporally take her back to the same local areas hundreds of years in the past. At first read I was unsure whether this story strand made much sense in the overall story, however, all is revealed later on when the plot lines merge. In a nutshell, from what you read in the first 40 or 50 pages is miles away of what you might expect heading into the final third.
A decent chunk of the story is told in the form of a ‘confession’ of events which took place in the 1830s. This is told years after the events described by Mary Carson, of the period she was hired as a secretary to a very rich mill owner and widower Arodias Thorne. Of course, you know the stories of the past and present are connected but we do not know how, with the author keeping them skilfully separate for much of the book. Initially Arodias is completely charming as he weaves his magic over the naïve spinster and to be honest nothing prepared me for the nasty direction where this terrific secondary story heads. Thorne is one grubby piece of smiling sleaze and subsequently one of the stars of the novel.
From time to time the novel flicks back into Alice’s past and through Facebook she reconnects with an old boyfriend John, who has supposed experience of the supernatural and helps her. Of course, the locals have long since been aware of strange goings on in the area and this is the journey which awaits Alice and John. There were a few red herrings along the way, but the answers really do lie in the past.
Although it doesn’t hold the overall unsettling level of creepiness as the 2012 novel ‘The Faceless’ it does hold a very believable level of sadness. It is not until hear the end to we find out how Alice lost her daughter, and it was a very powerful scene. And I do love authors who change the direction of their writing and this novel is wonderfully different from his brilliant post-apocalyptic novel ‘Hell’s Ditch’, both are books I would highly recommend. I intend to read the sequel to ‘Hell’s Ditch’, also recently published, very soon. On a personal level I didn’t think it reached the heights of those two previous novels, but to be fair it’s a different type of supernatural tale which is told in a different way. ‘The Feast of all Souls’ is buzzing with good ideas and as always Bestwick writes beautifully and what begins as a ghost story weaves into an entertaining page-turner about the search for something else, and part of the fun is finding out.