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Cliff McNish
July 2006

In many ways, this title is pure, traditional ghost story. It sets out to chill and it does.

When twelve-year-old asthmatic Jack comes to live in an old country cottage with his mum, he can feel at once that there has been death in the house. With his own father recently dead of a heart attack, Jack has developed a keen sense for traces of those who have passed on. Just by passing his fingers over objects he can sense the passage of the once-living, a skill that his mother doesn�t appreciate. His entrance is watched with excitement by four ghost children. They have been here for so long, perhaps this new boy will bring them excitement, hope, laughter, something. However, their enthusiasm is tempered by fear: even as they watch, they are aware that the ghost mother, their worst nightmare, is awake once again!

Jack�s room was that belonging to the old lady who last had the house. He can sense her past presence and it comforts him. Yet when he awakes and finds a ghostly woman draped over his bed one night, it is not the old woman at all, but a very different presence: thin, hollow-eyed, seemingly affectionate. For the first time he can see and even talk to a spirit! Day by day his power to touch the dead is growing. The woman herself is delighted. She wants to take care of him, to play at being a second mother. Her own little girl, Isabelle, died of consumption in this very house more than a century ago and she longs guiltily for other children to dote upon. What could be wrong with that?

Well, everything.

Thanks to a warning from the ghost children, Jack is alerted to something not so sweet in the ghost mother. But as his asthma grows � mirroring the breathing difficulties of Isabella � and as the ghost mother grows stronger, feeding gruesomely on the souls of the other ghosts, and determined to replace Jack�s real mother, so a time of horror begins. And only Jack�s ability to touch the dead and their different worlds can end the horror� if his asthma doesn�t triumph first.

The writing here is more than competent. McNish spins a suspenseful page-turner within his ghost story. I was also impressed by the degree to which he has developed explanations for how the ghosts move about, what rules they must follow and (despite a western Christian spin) what choices they might face after death.

A spine-tingler suitable for age ten and up. For those of brave disposition.

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This page contains a single entry by Patrick Cave published on June 16, 2006 10:48 AM.

The Fourth Horseman was the previous entry in this blog.

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