A tourist in China finds a real ghost story—and antagonists who want it to stay secret—in this novel.
Jackson Stone has a plan—sort of. When readers first meet him, Jackson is hoping to be left behind by his tour group for one night in the ghost city of Hensu. The place has been abandoned since the area was intentionally flooded, and while there are scary statues, there don’t seem to be a lot of actual ghosts. That’s too bad for Jackson, who plans to start a new life writing about famous haunted places even if he has to make up the apparitions. (He’ll call it “narrative non-fiction,” he thinks to himself in one of many humorous asides.) But when a mysterious pale figure shows up and tells him, “I live here,” Jackson doesn’t immediately realize that he’s stumbled onto a ghost story and a murder mystery—and that he won’t find peace until he tells the dead woman’s tale. Jackson resists at first while her spirit follows him around, leading to the usual genre attempt to figure out how this woman gets into his locked room. Luckily for Jackson, who starts out not believing in ghosts, his fellow tourist Kate is a medium who can feel and talk with phantoms. Unluckily for Jackson, their Chinese tour guide, Harold, doesn’t like him very much and has his own secrets connected to Hensu. Can Kate and Jackson find the truth before they’re stopped by either the living or the dead? Moncrieff (The Girl Who Talks to Ghosts, 2017, etc.) has a breezy, confident prose style that skillfully evokes the dread of the situation and a very smart plot setup. The age-old “Why don’t they go to the authorities?” question here is sidestepped by the investigators being tourists in China and the nation’s officials being implicated. (Or are they?) Familiar scenes—spooky nightmares, messages from the dead—are enlivened by the engaging characters. All of the players here have histories that haunt them, making them that much more believable.
A fun, chilling supernatural tale.