I’ve been a huge fan of Graham Masterton since the early 1990’s. Two of his novels, Night Warriors and Flesh and Blood, occupy prized spots on my dresser, so I can see them every day. Like most writers who’ve had long, successful careers, some of his books have been great, some good, and some not so good.
Unfortunately, Ghost Music wasn’t so good. This is why I didn’t enjoy it:
- Graham’s American Problem: There’s a persistent problem with the novels Masterton sets in the U.S.: they’re self-evidently written by someone unfamiliar with American idiom, customs, and culture. He’s typically got very snappy, witty dialogue, which is great, but occasionally English expressions like “Who’s X when he’s at home?” pop in when Americans speak to each other, and it takes you out of the story and reminds you who’s writing it. His attempts to immerse the reader in American culture simply fail most of the time, because when he’s not trying too hard, he’s not trying enough. I just wish he’d stop it. American horror fans will buy books set in Poland and the U.K. if he writes them. This problem was very much evident in Ghost Music.
- Stupid Protagonist: Another major criticism of the novel is that the protagonist was an absolute idiot from start to finish. While I understand that authors who work through traditional publishers often don’t get to choose the titles of their novels, it makes for a frustrating reading experience to read about a man who’s obviously seeing ghosts everywhere but has no idea that he’s seeing ghosts. He’s even screwing one who has the uncanny ability to shatter glass with her screams of delight at climax. It’s only near the end that he figures out that the people who appear and disappear, are dead one day and alive the next, are actually…wait for it…ghosts. The protagonist also makes a number of very strange decisions, all of which make no sense but are vital to move the plot forward. This is sloppy writing. It shows a lack of respect for the reader.
- Bad Bad Guys: There was needless brutality in the way certain people met their end: a boy has his eyes glued shut as part of the torture he endures before dying, and a young girl is literally sewed to a mattress that is later sunk into the sea (we’ll ignore how the latter can possibly be done for the purposes of storytelling). The impetus for this brutality involves a hastily thrown-together denouement with illegal organ harvesting in the Third World and a mafia-like antagonist.
Across the board not one of his best, but I did finish it. Two stars.
Final note: When he’s on his game, Graham Masterton is extraordinary. I’ll take him over Stephen King any day. Don’t take this one review as indicative of his entire oeuvre.