Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Review: The Haunting of James Hastings

Following up an astonishing debut is never an easy thing. Whether under the guise of music or the auspices of horror literature, proving to the masses that lightening can strike more than once can fill the creative heart with dread. It was two years ago now that Christopher Ransom delivered to us The Birthing House … a kind of wandering homage to the ghost story’s of old – but bristling with new enthusiasm and a modern take. Although riddled with some of the pitfalls of a first appearance – it still managed to be a beautiful nativity-fabled gothic that gives it a pride of place on any bookshelf.

Some authors like to wear many hats, but it was apparent that with his sophomore effort Christopher is setting up shop and carving out his own niche of the modern ghost story. After a quick perusal I knew that what we have here is more of the same - but that was fine by me. Sometimes writers (like musicians), will stick to a formula that sets them apart. It becomes a kind of territory … a backwater where the imagination can frolic.

James Hastings is a body double for the widely successful hip hop artist Ghost, an obvious literary reverence or echo to the real life Eminem. (This aspect was a mild turn-off at first, but we give the writer the benefit of the doubt and see he is more than capable of holding up a mirror to our own world in a brutal and somewhat enlightening way). After the death of his wife Stacey in a small but mysterious accident, James – like his alter ego Ghost – goes on a sabbatical to deal with his grief. Soon his neighbors come to his attention, and after purchasing a telescope, a spying game then ensues. After the death of his next-door-neighbor after a heart attack, a new resident moves in. She is young, alone, and bares a striking resemblance to Stacey. A relationship is then forged, and James goes on an odyssey of pain and learning – tempered by the haunting reality of Stacey’s ever too real presence. Not only in his house … but in the eyes of his new neighbor Annette.

As avid readers of dark and speculative fiction (I assume you all are), most of us know the correlation between music and fiction: they feed each other – both giving rise as influences so the other exists. And that’s what we have with The Haunting of James Hastings: a striking hybrid of gothic romance novel and a CD box set choc full of lyrical extras. Like his previous book, it does take the cue from novels like Rebecca and Bag of Bones, but I found at its heart a beautiful illustration of domestic married life and how emotions can be woven into the brick and mortar of houses. As a fan of first person narration only second, Christopher’s homely voice is so easy and accessible you won’t even know that it is. A decidedly male voice … but one that resonates with this reviewer.  

The Birthing House had a climax that seemed to raise more questions than answers, but you’ll find the revelations ladled on in The Haunting of James Hastings to be just as hair-raising and surprising than anything an early M. Night Shyamalan could dream up.

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