Fiction Reviews


Ghoster

(2019) Jason Arnopp, Orbit, £8.99, pbk, 449pp, ISBN 978-0-356-50688-3

 

Kate Collins has been ghosted.

She was supposed to be moving in with her new boyfriend Scott, but all she finds after relocating to Brighton is an empty flat. Scott has vanished. His possessions have all disappeared.

Except for his mobile phone.

Kate knows she shouldn't hack into Scott's phone. She shouldn't look at his Tinder, his texts, his social media. But she can't quite help herself.

That's when the trouble starts. Strange, whispering phone calls from numbers she doesn't recognise. Scratch marks on the door that she can't explain.

And the growing feeling that she's being watchedÖ

Following on from his previous horror hits Ė The Last Days of Jack Sparks and the novella, Beast in the Basement, comes another cracking horror offering from Jason Arnopp, and probably his best yet or am I being biased as Iíve always been a sucker for horror movies around technology? Particularly the older ones like the original, The Ring, and Pulse and fear.dot.com. These days the technology/social media horror movie has gone cold, not because of the lack of films coming out, itís just that they are fairly unoriginal, relying on gore or telegraphed jump scares, but itís good to see that in novel-form, Arnopp can come up with something original and genuinely creepy.

Kate, a paramedic has moved to a new town to start a new life with her boyfriend, Scott, but he has disappeared, taking all his belongings with him, except his phone, and these days the phone can be several gateways into a personís soul with the ability to access texts, emails, social media and much more. Should she hack into his phone? Will it reveal too much about her boyfriend, details she would rather not know? Thus starts a mystery, a horror novel that works on a psychological and supernatural level.

One of the things that works well is the characterisation of the two main characters, both Kate and Scott are vulnerable people, with their issues and at the start we are very unsure about Scott. Is he a creep? Is her a jerk? Is he playing a cruel trick on Kate, or is there a more, sinister reason for his disappearance? We finally really get to know him when we read his diary extracts which softens the readerís attitude towards him. Mental health issues rear their head and can Kateís version of events really be trusted? Although itís not all doom and gloomy, well, not nearly all, as some of the narrative and Kateís internal dialogue with herself is very funny in places. There is also a serious consideration of technology and social media in peopleís lives Ė does it increasing our connectivity, or does it create a false connection with people, and an addiction to be liked and followed all the time, and add to our loneliness? Lauren Buekes summed up perfectly what social media does to people in her novel Broken Monsters but I canít remember the quote, dammit!

After a slow start, and some creepy, chilling events and revelations, the tension builds towards a climax many readers wonít see coming, no spoilers here, but I didnít see it coming either, so it was a ďniceĒ shocking surprise in a creepy, try-and-get-that-out-of-your-head-way.

Ignoring the additional pages for acknowledgements, extras such as ďAbout the AuthorĒ and an extract from the novel, The Girl Who Could Move Sh*t With Her Mind, Ghoster is only 446 pages long, still a weighty tome, but the pain is eased by the story being told over 77 chapters making it easily an unputdownable read. As someone almost said in a Star Wars movie once, Iíll be watching young Arnoppís career with interest.

Ian Hunter

 


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