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Ghost Writer

Author: Staci Layne Wilson
Genre: Horror
Reviewed by: Jeremy M. Hoover


Cover ArtCary Bouchard is below average guy: his skin is pale, he wears a bow-tie with his gray suits, he is referred to as “effeminate” by his coworkers, he works as a secretary at an art studio, even his feminine-sounding name is suggestive of his bland personality.

Cary is lazy, bored with his job, and yearns to be a writer of great renown. To the dismay of his boss, who often reams his out for it, Cary daydreams about writing the Great American Novel while at work.

One day, Cary fantasizes about killing his boss, and later that night is able to write at a furious pace. Unfortunately, Cary does not remember too much about his writing: he zoned out, and when he came to, several pages of a manuscript had been written.

Cary continues to have periods where he zones out, and one day when he arrives at work, his boss is being wheeled out, dead, on a stretcher. The police indicate that someone had murdered him. Of particular concern for Cary is how his boss was murdered. He had been murdered in exactly the same way Cary had fantasized about days earlier. Shortly after this Cary quits his job and devotes himself full-time to writing.

Over time Cary is able to complete his manuscript. He finds a publisher, Hermann Winesapp of Old Scratch Press, who publishes his book under the title Vengeful Ghost. The book becomes on overnight success. Around this time he reconciles with his girlfriend, Diana, and they begin spending much time together. One day, while Cary is reading the paper, he reads that a lawyer’s dead body turned up in the river, drowned. But Cary does a double-take at the name—it is Hermann Winesapp, and Cary wonders if it is the same Winesapp from Old Scratch Press.

Because Cary is still waiting for a copy of his contract, he calls Old Scratch Press, only to find out their number has been disconnected; they are no longer in business. Cary is relieved at this development, because he had since signed a contract with a major publishing house and wasn’t sure how to cancel the contract with Old Scratch.

During this time Cary finishes his second novel, called The Brandie Killer. It is a sadistic novel about a serial killer who rapes and mutilates women because of a hatred of his mother. It, too, is a huge success, and Cary is sent out on a book tour. While on the tour, several ominous things happen to Cary. He continues to zone out for periods of time; he finds himself unable to write the Great American Novel because his creative energy seems to be dried up. He appears on a talk-show where he is reminded that his mother tried to kill him, and Cary receives three pictures, from two different people and a wolf, of dead women, mutilated in the same way that Cary’s serial killer mutilated women. Cary is arrested for questioning after he receives the third picture, and the police confiscate the pictures and begin to suspect him of something.

These omens lead Cary to quit his book tour and return to New York, where he promptly suggests to Diana a weeklong country visit to mother’s house. Strange things happen there as well. Cary spots the same wolf that “delivered” the third picture to him on his book tour and everything he eats or drinks tastes like death. Cary appears to be undergoing some sort of character transformation—he is becoming more abrupt and mean, and during intercourse with Diana he tries to strangle her.

Cary and Diana go out for a walk the next morning to discuss his behavior, and when they return, Diana’s mother is dead from a heart attack. They attend the funeral and return home, where they fight over a mysterious note Cary received from “a lover,” accompanied by a picture of this woman and Cary in bed together. Diana leaves, and Cary decides to go after her.

When Cary arrives at Diana’s house, he finds her dead and sprawled out on the floor. Because of the run-in with police on his book tour, he decides he cannot go to the police, so he packs up Diana’s body in a suitcase and leaves to bury her in a rose garden at her mother’s estate. While on his way, Cary is driven off the road by a car behind him, and he crashes.

When he wakes up, he is told he is in a prison infirmary and under arrest for several murders, including Diana’s and the women in the pictures. When Cary goes to trial, the prosecutor turns out to be Hermann Winesapp! After Winesapp uses a phrase the Winesapp from Old Scratch used, Cary knows he is in trouble. We finally learn that Cary is being targeted by an ancient evil, leading to two major plot twists and a chilling and disturbing ending.

Wilson has written a very engaging novel of suspense and horror. Her writing style flows, and the book is very easy to read. It starts strong and ends even stronger. Some stylistic issues are troublesome, such as awkward character development in some parts of the story (Diana’s sense of Cary’s “meanness” dawns on her too suddenly), too many adjectives in the early chapters of the book, and several point-of-view switches.

In spite of those concerns, Wilson has told a beautiful story in the style of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Cary is an excellent protagonist. Following him through the story allows us to follow ourselves—who doesn’t want to be a writer, after all?—and question our own motives and thoughts about the people in our lives. Ultimately, we are left at the end with the question of what is real, and what is not real. The epilogue shows us that our lives run in varying degrees of truth and fiction, and it is up to us to sort it out.

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May 12, 2004 in Horror | Permalink

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