Ghost of a Chance (A Ghost Finders Novel) Mass Market Paperback – August 31, 2010
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The basic concept has a lot of potential: you've got these so-called Ghost Finders, a British version of the Ghostbusters, only these are agents of the Carnacki Institute, a run-of-the-mill Secret Agency whose main task is to hunt things that go bump in the night while keeping a stiff upper lip. The team: first there's the intellectual J.C. Chance, who is supposed to be a rather suave leader but comes across as an annoying, overtly-optimistic jerk. Then there's the kinky techno-geek Melody Chambers, more interested in high tech gadgetry than people, and the class-11 telepath "Happy" Jack Palmer, who's so neurotic he's constantly popping pills to keep his badly battered nerves under control.
The plot in a nutshell: JC's three-agent team gets sent on a mission is to help solve a problem in London's Underground at Oxford Circus Station. Something has gone horribly wrong there, as commuters have disappeared and it seems that the trains down there have started eating people. Indeed, there's Something down there: an ancient and powerful Lovecraftian-type Being that is threatening to break through to our universe, and it's up to our hapless trio to kick its ectoplasmic behind. But there's another big problem: the rival team from the Crowley Institute, the evil counterpart of the Carnacki Institute, that wants to utilize the paranormal for their own selfish ends.
On the negative side of the ledger: Although I usually like Green's hyperbole style of writing, in this book it was at times so excessive that it started to grate. And the characters didn't have much appeal either. Even by the end of the novel, I still couldn't bring myself to really like them. They have only a few character traits, and we get reminded about these ad-nauseam. Tellingly, it was the "evil team" I found most interesting. And then the way J.C. Chance fell in love with that ghostly lady at first sight... utterly unbelievable.
On the plus side: As I mentioned above, the character dynamics remind me of "Ghostbusters," one of my favorite movies, and the never-ending banter between the characters is at times very comedic. Besides the rather slow start, the storytelling is fast-paced and Green has created an interesting world. It has his usual camp and punny humor. And there are some other fun bits as well: did anyone catch the inside jokes, like that the Carnacki Institute is a direct reference to William Hope Hodgson's Carnacki the Ghostfinder? Or that the Crowley Institute references Aleister Crowley, the English occultist and writer?
Final verdict: it has the basics of what could have been a good book (hence my review-title "ghost of a book") but ultimately, even as a spoof of traditional horror novels, "Ghost Of A Chance" doesn't really work. Thus the two-stars.
The book has Green's usual virtues - easy to read, fun, entertaining, a group of plucky heroes, vile villains, mysterious and unreliable and vaguely mysterious authority figures and lots and lots of gore. Our plucky heroes must confront a terrible threat and defeat it, they face threats from the villains and question the involvement of the authorities. All the parts are there and they mostly work in clockwork balance.
In terms of plot, Ghost of a Chance is tightly focused - the entire story takes place over the course of a single day, primarily in a single setting (a station in the London Underground), and focused on a small group of characters and a single major challenge. The plot isn't groundbreaking but it's competently handled.
The characters are standard issue for Green's novels, which ends up being both a blessing and a curse. Green has gotten so skilled at creating these characters he can do it in shorthand - a few phrases here and there and we get a picture of who they are. Unfortunately, in this case, the characters (both good guys and bad) feel phoned in. We've been there and done that before and the edge has worn smooth. They're not bad charcters, they're just not interesting.
Which is kind of the whole problem - there's a sense in this book of going through the motions. The big plot twist at the end (spoiler free here) isn't as a big as twisty as it could or should have been, which meant that the denouement was less a surprise than a sense of "Well of course that's what happened." For a first book in the series, Ghost of a Chance isn't as ambitious as it could be, nor is it the page-turner Green normally offers readers. At the end of the day, it's an entertaining diversion but not up to Green's normal standards.
I liked it and it's a fun read. It's just not quite as good as Green's other books.
Top international reviews
The characters are weak and unlikeable, he repeats the same information about them continually through the book. There is no depth or magentism that is so present in Eddie Drood or John Taylor to balance the unsavoury parts. The horror is reminiscent of early Dean Koontz or the first Masterson books from 20-30 years ago. If I didnt know better I would think this was a first novel and that the Nightside and Secret Histories were written long after he had developed his story writing skills.
As a previous critic has commented I also thought it was maybe teenage fiction but apparently not - I struggled to take this novel seriously in any way and did not engage with it - It was like one of those terrible films you watch to see if the ending is any good having invested the time to rent it only to find that it was as truly uninspiring and predictable as you had thought it would be.
I eagerly await my next Drood installment and Nightside debacle but would find it a crying shame if he expends more effort creating a series out of this wishy washy effort instead of focusing on the supreme established series we already have.
In short it is 2 hours of life you wont get back so if you havent read any of the Nightside or Secret Histories then spend your pennies on those instead as they are Infinitely superior. This one will be going to the charity shop as it is not fit to sit on my bookshelf in my Simon R Green collection
Sorry Simon !
What I like about it particularly is its narrow focus. After the setup of the first two chapters which introduces the scenario and our team of three heroes, Green gets right down to business. Most of the novel is set within the confines of Oxford Street Tube Station transformed into a nightmarish place by some evil otherworldly power and takes place on just one night, maybe even only a couple of hours. Apart from our heroes there are only the two villains plus a collection of ghosts, demons and monsters. All five humans are smartly characterised and prone to wisecracking. The heroes are flawed and fallible but heroes nevertheless. The two villains, a sadistic seductress and a mad scientist and as enjoyably horrid as you could wish for, are on a mission to kill the heroes but inevitably they need to join forces. There's the odd bit of deus ex machina around but that's forgivable in an otherwise rattling unputdownable yarn.
Great fun, a bit like a good episode of your favourite tv series.
Sign me up for the next one please Mr Green.