Ghosts in history first rose to my notice with Jaime Lee Moyer’s atmospheric, tense series beginning with Delia’s Shadow , set in San Francisco toward the end of World War I.
This period coincides with the height of the Spiritualism movement, popular both in the USA and the UK; many famous people were associated with it, Arthur Conan Doyle as an enthusiastic supporter, and Harry Houdini as an equally enthusiastic debunker.
Moyer does a great job with evoking time and place, both realistic details and the spooky sort. The subsequent books, A Barricade in Hell, and Against a Brightening Sky, cover the end of the war and the Bolshevik Revolution respectively, bringing in imperial Romanov ghosts to accelerate the dire doings in this world and the next.
I loved how Moyer built her series around a married couple who communicate with each other—all readers are different, but I don’t like bickering couples who never resolve their issues, especially when the world is going to hell around them. You know Delia, who sees ghosts, and Gabe, who is part of the San Francisco Police, will always have each other’s back.
Briefly, I loved this book; I loved the clever twist that made the Ghost Talkers work in the World War I context, I loved the unpredictable twists, the characters, and above all I loved the relationship between the central pair; Kowal gives us a beautifully poignant tale, with moments of tenderness, laughter, and exhilaration as well as tension and profound awareness of the horrible cost of this war. I really look forward to seeing where she takes it next.
When another ghost book showed up in my NetGalley queue, Rysa Walker’s Delphi Effect (a terrific, exciting YA novel set a few years in the future) I began thinking about why these ghost stories work for me so well.
I’m not into the horror ghosts, eviscerative poltergeists, evil things possessing the living, and so forth. The ghosts that show up in stories I like are people trying to be people however they can, and that includes connecting with other people. When we’re not murdering one another, we are very gregarious animals.
As Christine Wicker notes in her sympathetic, often acerbic, journalistic exploration into the Spiritualist town Lily Dale, aside from the table rockers and spoon benders and those seeking riches with some help from the supernatural, most people want connection with loved ones.
Our lives are so messy, and they become messier when death interrupts; so many of these stories, fiction or personal relation, are about finishing. Business, justice, conversations. Aren’t the very best relationships of our lives conversations that we never want to end?
Ghost stories are also stories, that is, they connect us with the past, as well as give us that thrill of the weird. Then there’s the puzzle aspect, that sense that we don’t know everything after all, and one thing we humans enjoy besides speculation is puzzle-solving.
I enjoy ghost stories like these because of the way the authors work with emotional connections. How about you? Read any ghost stories that you recommend?