And now we go from a series I enjoyed to a book that I find it really hard to say anything positive about.
Simon R. Green is apparently more well known for his Nightside series, which I’ve never read. I picked up this one instead of the first Nightside book because the fact that Ghost of a chance was the first in the series was printed on the cover. Urban fantasy publishers: PLEASE do this. More than once I’ve started halfway through a series because it was nigh-impossible to tell which book was first so I grabbed the one in the worst condition. Historical romance books are even worse, as I’ve seen some authors (Laura Lee Guhrke, for example) where the books in the series are listed in a different order in each book.
Please quit doing this, publishers. My public library occasionally numbers things in-series on their spines, but they aren’t particularly consistent about it and it appears to be more common with hardcovers and or/trades than it does mass market paperbacks. The least you could do is list the series in order on the fly-leaf.
Back to this book in particular.
Brief plot summary
JC Chance, Melody Chambers, and Happy Jack Palmer are a team of paranormal investigators working for the Carnacki Institute. Tasked with investigating an apparently simple haunting in the London Underground, things become more complicated when a team from their arch-rivals, the Crowley Project, arrives.
So how is it?
The first red flag was the title of the series – “Ghost finders” is perhaps the least inventive title they could possibly have come up with. Still, I was hoping that it would at least be stupid fun.
Unfortunately it was just stupid.
From the cover art (obviously traced from photos of celebrities) to the content, the whole thing felt more phoned-in than Planet X.
The characters could all be summed up in one cliché each: JC Chance: the leader and everyman. Happy Jack Palmer: cranky drug addict with hilarious ironic nickname. Melody Chambers: The woman (also, she is tech-savvy).
Green seems to think that throwing facts at the reader is a functional substitute for character development. We learn that these three people have hobbies outside their jobs. That’s the extent of the development they get. Each character is solely defined based on their one-sentence stereotype. Look! Happy Jack wants to take a pill and is cranky! Hope you think that’s clever because that’s what you’ll be treated to for the next 270 pages (yeah, it’s short even for a light urban fantasy novel).
The plot is essentially a random mish-mash of events thrown together so that each character can have some opportunity to show off how “quirky” they are. Look! The female assassin from the Crowley Project wears a leather catsuit and knows martial arts! How original!
The dialogue is entirely cobbled together from one-liners and portentious statements. The prose isn’t much better, with elaborate verbal circumlocutions that are intended to show character development but with a final clause that more or less just tells you how to interpret the rest of it.
There are plenty of attempts at humor, and a sprinkling of allusions, but they’re neither subtle nor witty. Look! The bad ghost finders are from the Crowley Project! Get it? Like Aleister Crowley, famed/infamous occultist? How clever! (Repeat for the Carnacki Institute)
Honestly, I’d be able to get past most of this in the interest of escapism, but there’s one event that completely ruins this book for me.
A character falls hopelessly in love at first sight … with a ghost. This is played totally straight.
I’m going to channel my inner Amy Poehler here and say… REALLLY?
If I haven’t made myself clear, this isn’t a book or series I’d ever recommend willingly. Still, I’m sure some people would like it.
Simon R. Green fans
Fans of “masculine” urban fantasy who are willing to overlook a book that’s entirely populated by clichés
Literary critics looking for an excuse to write a negative review
Literature professors planning a lesson on deconstructing bad writing
Precocious 4th-6th graders looking for an “adult” read that’s still accessible
Honestly, The screaming staircase by Jonathan Stroud is better on almost every level and it’s written explicitly for children.