Another of Modesitt’s alternate-world yarns where the US never cohered, and ghosts are not only real but the subject of scientific study (The Ghost of the Revelator, 1998, etc.). Northeastern America is Columbia, comfortably and prosperously Anglo-Dutch, the Romanovs still rule Russia, and most of Europe lies under the heel of the cruel, expansionist Austro-Hungarian Empire. Once again, the Columbian government finds that dark deeds need doing, so naturally it turns to Doktor Johan Eschbach, Professor of Environmental Science and Columbia’s most effective secret agent. As part of a cultural exchange program, the government arranges for narrator Johan’s lovely wife, the supremely talented soprano Llysette, to give a concert in St. Petersburg. While Llysette sings, Johan will negotiate with the aristocrats and military men who run Russia’s oil industry. With Austro-Hungary squeezing world oil supplies, Johan can offer the Russians a method of mitigating oil pollution, and techniques to facilitate oil extraction under Arctic conditions—in exchange for giving Columbia exclusive license to develop Russian Alaska’s huge oil deposits. There are, of course, additional and highly dangerous complications involving—you guessed it—ghosts.
The first half, all college courses, meals being prepared and eaten, weather reports, and devious hints of forthcoming developments, barely engages enough to keep you turning the pages; still, the second half rattles along in fine style, and leaves plenty of scope for future additions—the publisher’s assertion that it “completes Modesitt’s Ghost trilogy” notwithstanding.