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Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Ghosts Of Gotham by Craig Schaefer (Reviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)

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AUTHOR INFORMATION: Craig Schaefer was born in Chicago and wanted to be a writer since a very young age. His writing was inspired by Elmore Leonard, Richard Stark, Clive Barker & H. P. Lovecraft. After reaching his 40th birthday he decided to give in to his passion and since then has released twelve novels in the last three years. He currently lives in North Carolina and loves visiting museums and libraries for inspiration. 

OFFICIAL BOOK BLURB: Irresistibly drawn to mysteries, if only to debunk them, reporter Lionel Page exposes supernatural frauds, swindlers, and charlatans. His latest case is an obsession—at least for an ancient and wealthy heiress: verify the authenticity of a lost Edgar Allan Poe manuscript circulating through New York City’s literary underworld. But the shrewd Regina Dunkle offers more than money. It’s a pact. Fulfill her request, and Lionel’s own notorious buried past, one he’s been running from since he was a child, will remain hidden.

As Lionel’s quest begins, so do the warnings. And where rare books go, murder follows. It’s only when Lionel meets enigmatic stranger Madison Hannah, his personal usher into the city’s secret history, that he realizes he’s being guided by a force more powerful than logic…and that he isn’t just following a story. He is the story.

Now that the true purpose of his mission is revealing itself in the most terrifying ways, it may finally be time for Lionel to believe in the unbelievable.

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: Ghosts Of Gotham is Craig Schaefer’s newest offering and one that promises a new direction in his illustrious career. This book is based on the next chapter in his career with 47North. The story is quite interesting and was definitely a new twist on gothic stories.

Lionel Page is a Chicago reporter who’s addicted to debunking mysteries and because of his past, he cannot resist them any more than he breathes. However he’s clueless as to how to solve his own personal mystery. His penchant for risks often lands him in the cross hairs of his editor Brianna who fears for his safety as well. A recent assignment goes sideways and lands him in a bit of a hotspot. Soon he gets introduced to Regina Dunkle who tasks him with a special offer to find a lost Edgar Allen Poe manuscript and also promises him a sizeable contribution for his efforts. Travelling to New York City, he soon immerses himself in this search and also meets an enigmatic fellow traveler who goes by Madison Hannah. Both of these characters have their own agendas but don’t know exactly who are ones pulling their chains. This lost manuscript is one that will cause a lot of trouble but also bring to the fore mysteries that have long since stayed hidden.

Any Craig Schaefer book is a cause for celebration and this one is something a lot different than what he has written before. This book was deemed as Craig’s love letter to the city of New York as well as all of its intricacies and secrets. The story begins on a very typical mystery note wherein the readers are introduced to the first mystery is Lionel himself and what drives him. Lionel is also our sole viewpoint of this story and it is truly through him that we get to experience everything. His characterization is key and creating enigmatic characters is Craig’s forte. This book is no different as while we are slowly uncovering the mystery of the main plot. We also get to see the many mysteries of the other cast of characters such has Madison who goes by Maddie and flits in an out of Lionel’s NYC investigations, his private benefactor Regina Dunkle who maintains her privacy above everyone and everything else.

All these characters are what make this story so interesting and there are mysteries galore within them as well as the burdens they carry. The story is of course a tribute to the somewhat quixotic nature of New York City and also a Gothic suspense story. The very nature of New York City is called into question as the reader along with Lionel get to witness it turn into something more. More than just the financial capital of the world, it becomes a city that houses almost every type of story and Lionel is just trying to find the one that perhaps is tied to his past (without knowing it to be such). The plot unfolds at a nice pace and the twists are such that they become harder and harder to predict.

The best part about the story is the slow reveal of what the story is truly about and I thoroughly enjoyed that aspect. I can’t talk much about it without spoiling the whole plot of the story but safe to say. This story is a little disingenuous about its overall plot and that’s done on purpose. The author takes great pains to frame the story in a certain and with smart plot twists, we see it unravel into a spectacular climax. It’s also focuses on a thread that originates with Edgar Allen Poe and then gives NYC a special spectral past. I loved how the author presented New York City as a character on its own. This was really fun to see and I’m sure resident NYCers will be able to discern some small details that might not be easily apparent to someone like me.

Lastly there’s also the presence of a Greek mythological character who also is mentioned in some of his other books but according to the author isn’t related to his previous works. I enjoyed this character’s actions and they are very much central to the main plot. The book is sold as a standalone and it works a little bit in that direction but honestly this story and world introduced is so rich that it deserves a sequel.

With such a story, the drawbacks are going to be very subjective. For me the only drawback perhaps is the eventual reveal which becomes a tad predictable. Not the climax but the main secret about its main characters. Not that it detracted from my enjoyment but still after reading all of Craig’s works, I’ve come to expect the sky of his written efforts. For some, it might be the pace which starts slow and then really unfolds or it might be the primary antagonist who perhaps doesn’t quite come with the same menace as some of Craig other memorable creations.

CONCLUSION: Ghosts Of Gotham is a lovely little mystery that’s also a love letter to New York City, Greek mythology and the many faces that we humans choose to take on. The story is about literal, metaphorical and allegorical ghosts. Salman Rushdie talks about "ghosts being nothing but unfinished business", I believe this perfectly encapsulates Ghosts Of Gotham as well what lies ahead in the sequels.



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