It’s 1927 Manhattan, but a time and place both familiar and strange. The first world war has ended and the United States is in a Cold War with the British Empire. Steam-powered automobiles command the streets of a city terrorized by the mysterious underworld figure known as The Roman, so named for his penchant for leaving Ancient Roman coins on the eyelids of his brutalized victims. Police detective Felix Donovan is charged with the daunting task of bringing The Roman to justice, and quickly learns firsthand the villain’s power and reach. He and his family are threatened and he is made an offer he cannot – or perhaps should not – refuse. But Donovan is a man of honor and refuses to be bought. Instead, he sends his family into hiding and pushes forward with his investigation.
Fortunately for Donovan, he has an ally in the form of a costumed hero known as The Ghost who has declared war on The Roman’s organization. Outfitted with a host of gadgetry, from rocket boots to flechette-firing weaponry, the Ghost patrols the streets of Manhattan at night, disrupting The Roman’s operations with brutal efficiency.
The dual investigations lead both men through a labyrinthine mystery involving ancient artifacts, a wealthy playboy named Gabriel Cross, a supernatural bargain, and an alluring jazz singer who may prove the key to it all.
Ghosts of Manhattan is a hard-boiled, noir, steampunk, AU thriller with supernatural trappings and echoes of The Dark Knight. Yes, it covers a lot of ground, but it does so in well-paced fashion, offering up an interesting premise and some intriguing world-building that, I suspect, sets the stage for future adventures in this series. It’s nicely atmospheric, establishing and developing a unique sensibility reminiscent of both pulp fiction and classic cinema. It succeeds well on this count but its success makes the book’s late “supernatural turn” a little jolting. In all fairness, one can argue that this was set up with the introduction of the seemingly indestructible golems (which do, inevitably, end up destroyed in spectacular fashion), obviously otherworldly elements operating in an otherwise grounded environment, but, for me, the revelation concerning The Roman and Celeste still felt jarring.
The only other creative decision to give me pause was the choice to maintain an air of mystery surrounding the Ghost’s true identity rather than reveal it from the get-go. It stuck me as odd given that it was very obvious throughout. In fact, it was so obvious that, at a certain point, I began to suspect it was a clever misdirect and my assumptions would be upended by a wholly unexpected revelation. Ironically, when the Ghost’s alter ego was finally revealed, I’d so convinced myself that I was in for a surprise that when I wasn’t surprised I WAS surprised!
Finally, I should make special mention of the gorgeous, eye-catching cover by Benjamin Carre that so effectively captures the moodiness of the story itself. This was one of those instances where the cover actually drew me to a book rather than causing me to banish it to the “maybe some day” pile.
So, what did you all think of Ghosts of Manhattan? Let’s hear your thoughts. And get those questions in for author George Mann.
Well, the news coming out of Japan continues to worsen. My friends in Tokyo are reporting that the city continues to experience after shocks, putting everyone on edge. Electricity is being rationed, ransportation has been badly affected, and stores are having a hard time keeping shelves stocked. One of Akemi’s friends has heard regular food deliveries won’t resume until the end of April. Most international and ex-pat communities are leaving. I asked one of my friends if she was thinking of following suit. Her response echoed the stories I’ve heard, of survivors supporting one another, demonstrating patience and perseverance in the face of the tragedy: “We are thinking about it, but at the same time, I trust the people here in Japan and their strength, and it is up to us who are able to resume to everyday life to get this country going”. I asked her how those of us so far away could help, and she suggested making a donation to a reliable organization like the Red Cross (a spokesman on CNN assured viewers that fully 91% of monies contributed go to the stricken countries), or JEN (http://www.jen-npo.org/en/index.html). Meanwhile, the American Humane Association has set up a relief fund for animals affected by the disaster: a relief fund for rescuing animals
Meanwhile, the situation with Japan’s nuclear reactors continues to worsen. Attempts are underway to cool exposed fuel rods at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant and avert a meltdown. What does this mean? Well, according to CNN, it’s “very bad news”. BUT what does it mean?! Well, one CNN pundit called it “the worst possible news”. Okay, but WHAT DOES IT MEAN?! What are the consequences of a meltdown? For the Japanese people? For the rest of the world? Unfortunately, the news outlets are too busy using terms like “worst case scenario” and “disastrous” to properly explain anything beyond their detailed, illustration-laden, accounts of what is being done to avert this “disastrous” “worst case scenario”. I did, eventually, come across this article: http://theenergycollective.com/barrybrook/53461/fukushima-nuclear-accident-simple-and-accurate-explanation, but with today’s developments, we’re already past the points covered. On the one hand, we have the end-of-the-world kooks spouting their doomsday theories on conspiracy and survivalist sites; on the other hand, we have various world governments reassuring the public that the effects of any radiation released will be minimal. Obviously, the truth lies somewhere in between. I’m just saying, I think it would just be nice to be able to tune into the news and get actual news – say, information, possibly even answers to some fairly obvious questions.
Amid all the videos and photos of the vast devastation, one simple picture of the human element at the heart of this tragedy really drove home for me the sad reality of this almost surreal situation. It’s a photo of a young girl who looks not all that dissimilar to Akemi, hunkered down behind the window of a radiation barrier, reaching out to almost touch her dog on the other side. Heartbreaking.