Reviews: 4 Walking with Ghosts
One of Britain’s most talented contemporary crime writers. Marcel Berlins, The Times.
(The) search for truth in the midst of a media-led approximation is one of the novel’s underlying themes: “The newspapers, the television, all the reporters would find another story. Reality would be swamped by illusion.” The story begins with a mystery, but is gradually infused with irony, as it becomes clear that many of the characters know or are related to one another, compounding the sense in which familiarity creates as many doubts as it does certainties and we become so enamoured of sensation that it becomes a permanent distraction, as inescapable as it is ultimately opaque. Baker’s novel resonates with Edgar Allan Poe’s tale “The Man of the Crowd, in which the protagonist is “the type and genius of deep crime. He refuses to be alone. He is the man of the crowd.” Equally, John Baker’s killer, the “Surgeon”, shuns society, adopting disguises which make him both distinctive and invisible: “You look like a recluse, like someone who doesn’t want to be found. But at the same time you don’t want to get totally lost.” There are moments of sadistic unpleasantness, but the element of sadism is always exact. Walking with Ghosts is a novel which exposes the intoxication of desire; there is a sense in which we are all, like the alcoholic Sam Turner, learning to “distrust the unconscious, knowing better that it plans disaster . . .”, for us and everyone around us. David Utterson, Times Literary Supplement.
One of those wonderful books in which the reader is pulled into the story no matter how unwillingly. The characters force you to read on. A novelist who combines a light humour with a viciously sharp penetration into how our minds work. It is the “why” that grips and fascinates through this excellently written story. . . . exquisite details . . . This isn’t a “cosy”. There is violence, vicious and banal cruelty which makes you cringe. The last scenes in particular make the book impossible to put down. An excellent read, superbly well written. G Lock, Shots.
A spooky read . . . particularly as the action takes an increasingly sinister turn. An exceptionally disturbed individual is walking the streets, and no woman is safe until he is brought to justice. The portrait of that individual is skillfully drawn, delving into the causes of his madness with great perception, and pulling no punches in describing the consequences. The most horrific and bloody passage involves an encounter not with a human but a rat, and it’s not a chapter to read over your supper! The characterization throughout this novel is good. There are no two-dimensional private eyes here, interested only in getting their man. Instead, they are facing private dramas in their personal lives that are interlaced with the main plot, to make this a good read. Baker is said to be one of the most highly acclaimed new crime writers on the scene, and I can understand that acclaim. Mike Laycock, Yorkshire Evening Press.
. . .phrases of luminescent humour . . . The working out of the plot seems almost subordinated to the need to explore meaning and behaviour and how they (we) make sense of anything. The gothic climaxes at the end are genuinely hair raising. I was going up those stairs with Marie – and not enjoying it! Great, thank you! But very disturbing. These characters live in real spaces of past and present and dreams – all our “nows”. Pete Latarche.
(Baker brings a) melancholy charm to his characters. Mark Timlin, The Independent on Sunday.
Baker’s novel is witty and confident with deftly sketched idiosyncratic characters who are established and built upon with deceptive ease. His writing is clear and intelligent and manages to convey mood without breaking the pace of the story. Baker must be commended for taking the staples of the private-eye novel, giving them an up-to-date twist or two, and proving that – in his hands, at least – there’s life in the old dog yet. Chris Senior, Sherlock Holmes, The Detective Magazine.
Walking with Ghosts is a dark book, at times genuinely moving and in turn horrific and disturbing. It moves between a description of Dora’s inner life related on her deathbed as she steadily disintegrates and the working out of a case which is steeped in corruption both political and personal. The two seemingly separate dramatic strands of the book move towards closure with inevitability akin to Greek tragedy. As the past is mapped in Dora’s mind the consequences are played out on the streets of York. Baker handles an ambitious novel well. The writing of Dora’s dreamlike reliving of her past and sudden jolts into present suffering is genuinely impressive: subtle and complex. What could have been a difficult balancing act in marrying this to the more traditional PI narrative in the book’s other half comes off without a hitch. Baker’s books just get better. And, by the by, if this all sounds way too heavy there’s still room for plenty of trademark black York wisecracking. Ralph Lees, Tangled Web.
This is very good indeed. British PI’s are few and far between and its good to see a cracking tale set in a sleazy imaginary version of York which is both convincing and well written. (Baker) has a good eye for detail and he paces this one well with a good peppering of the off beat and the nasty. Along with a good variety of characters and that sort of fairly effortless dialogue, the sum total is worth a few reviewers clichés: this is rightly a highly acclaimed series and John Baker deserves better recognition. The only downer in all this is that I’ll obviously have to go out and get the earlier books in the series. Peter Walker, Tangled Web.
Really enjoyed this one. My favourite in the series so far. Cath Staincliffe.
John Baker has created an intriguing variant on the private eye as tough guy. It conveys an authentically English atmosphere. Not the illusory Englishness of John Major’s imagination, but more authentically urban, with convincingly drawn people living out credible urban lives and speaking a recognisable language. Nick Wright, Morning Star.
The over-riding force in the book is Dora, the relationship between her and Sam, the unspoken messages that convey to the reader the strength of their love, and the power of the mind, as Dora reflects on her past, and sees truths that had previously eluded her. A terrific book. Highly recommended. Lizzie Hayes, Mystery Women.
A really fine book. Splendid writing, very convincing characterisation, a plausible crime, and central relationships that really work. Dora is a marvellous character, wonderfully developed. Michelle Spring, novelist.
There’s an almost gloomy, gothic feel to his York area canvas–particularly the killer’s own lair. A nice pace, an intriguing plot and an inevitable conclusion (could hardly help that–once the investigation got going the killer was increasingly on the defensive) and not everything ends happily. Goes good with a heavy, dark beer. Recommended.
Iriley on LibraryThing, novelist.