The Carnacki Institute protects the British Empire against threats from beyond the grave. Their agents confront otherworldly beings and terrible haunts every day. But nothing can prepare them for what’s coming to Oxford Tube Station and they’ll need all their wits about them to even have a Ghost of a Chance to win the day!
Genre(s): Urban Fantasy
Author: Simon R. Green
Release Date: August 2010
Purchase At: Amazon
I love Simon R. Green’s novels, I seriously do. I read all the Nightside books and I’m on the way there with Secret Histories. Deathstalker is on my to-do list. So when I saw Ghost of a Chance on a shelf, I squealed like a teenager—something the other patrons didn’t really appreciate.
Having said so, I wish this novel were better. I’m not saying it’s bad, but it’s not as good as Green’s other work.
Ghost Finders takes place in the same universe as the author’s other series. Tackling the subject of paranormal investigators, Green presents us with the Carnacki Institute, the last line of defence between the other worlds and the British Empire. Operating from a secret wing in Buckingham Palace, the Institute’s agents travel the country solving every haunting possible, yet no one knows they exist. And they like it that way. Opposite to them is the Crowley Project, their mirror. Where the Institute seeks to banish and exorcise, the Project seeks to create hauntings, to collect and consume the entities. Yes, that’s right, Crowley agents are soul-eaters.
J.T. Chance, Melody Chambers and Happy Jack Palmer form one of the Institute’s teams. They’re not the A-league teams, but they get the job done. J.T. is their confident leader, always a plan, a smile and an eagerness to discover and kick ass. Melody is in love with her machines and she only joined Carnacki because they give her the best toys. Happy is ironically a very unhappy man, a psychic, hopped up on so many meds they could kill an army, but just enough to quiet down the voices he hears and let him live the closest thing to a normal life.
Readers of the Nightside series will find Ghost of a Chance familiar in structure. The book opens with a standalone case to introduce certain concepts, and as the first in the series, the characters themselves. The case itself is really good, the death of an old woman on the premises of a brand new supermarket, on the opening day, summon the Genius Loci of the Iron Age settlement on which the supermarket stands on, the thing creating a haunt with its dark presence. The descriptions are great and you get to know the characters and their roles.
Usually agents get to rest between cases but something’s come to Oxford Circus, to the tube station, and every other team is too busy to take the call. The haunting is off the scales but the Institute can spare no one else but J.T.’s team. So after arguing with their boss they brave the dark tunnels and try to find the cause for it all. Little do they know the Crowley Project has sent two of their agents, a Femme Fatalle and a Crazy Scientist, to kill them.
Characters in Simon R. Green novels are usually the highlight, each with their own distinct personalities, quirks and witticisms, and Ghost of a Chance delivers on the same level. The protagonist trio is a delight to read, especially when working together while bickering non-stop. The Crowley Project agents are stereotypical villains, the cruel femme fatale and the opportunistic mad scientist. They’re deliciously evil, and their interactions with each other and the rest of the cast are fantastic, their ideals in conversation better showing the differences between the organisations than any exposition ever could.
Having said so, the protagonist characters are too good. They’re too skillful, brave and resourceful. J.T. Chance is never on the losing end, he’s always ahead of the curve, even when by all reason he shouldn’t be. Happy is a predictable powerhouse and quite capable, even without his medication, something the author tries to hammer down as being the only thing keeping him sane in the tube station. Turns out it’s not true. Melody is not only the expert hacker and tech-master but also an amazing hand-to-hand combat expert. It’s not a problem for characters to have multiple skills, but the protagonists of this novel have no weaknesses, no shortcomings beyond foul temper and an infinite resource of sarcastic remarks. This makes all tension evaporate, as you never feel them to be in any real danger.
Simon R. Green’s prose remains the same as it’s always been: witty and smart but sometimes overextending on the exposition. It wouldn’t really matter if it were as his other works, where exposition is hidden in conversations and mentioned at important moments. In Ghost of a Chance, you ‘hear’ the same information over and over, using similar if not the same words. The description of what is down in the tube with them is one you’ll read to the point of exhaustion. At certain points, I found myself groaning, “I already know this!”
Descriptions of the haunting, both the starting case and the main one, are amazing however. As reality twists and shifts, things becoming nightmarish and surreal and you’ll almost experience them in person with Green’s style. From posters showing hellish plains, to a subway car straight out of the crew logs of the Event Horizon (a film, if you haven’t seen it!), things get progressively disturbing and insane, and perhaps that more than anything else will draw you in and have you at the edge of your seat.
There is a romantic element in Ghost of a Chance, between J.T. and a ghost. The relationship doesn’t exactly blossom as pop up out of nowhere. The characters profess their love five minutes after they meet and J.T. spends a big chunk of the story chasing after her. When he finally catches up, he has to go through a deadly gauntlet and I was excited at the prospect of the character dying or at least making it through but damaged in some way…but that wasn’t the case. In perhaps what is the worst part of this novel, and forgive me the spoiler, J.T. is saved by a mysterious entity that gives him the power of awesomeness. Demons cower under his gaze, his wounds heal and try as they might they never even scratch him again. The saving entity is a nameless, one, just something that liked his display of love and devotion and thought, “let’s throw the man a bone!” It’s forced, Deus Ex Machina and I call storytelling shenanigans!
The plot is actually extremely compelling with a mysterious entity forcing its way into our world and using everything in its power to misdirect or distract the agents. It’s an intriguing mystery and it offers a few twists, and as is often the case with Simon R. Green, even if he’s turned things around on you before, you won’t see the next one coming. The entity itself is a bit weak for all the hype it receives, but the resolution for the haunting is very strong and it touches on key events of the story.
Ghost of a Chance is a fun read. It’s big and weird in a way that only Green can pull off and expands his established universe, but the repetitiveness and the lack of tension make it the weakest of all Simon R. Green novels I’ve read.
3/5 – Alright