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Murther and Walking Spirits Hardcover – November 13, 1991

2.9 out of 5 stars 15 customer reviews
Book 1 of 2 in the Toronto Trilogy Series

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The unexpected conceit devised by the author of the Deptford trilogy will surprise but likely not disappoint his fans. Shortly into the first chapter, narrator Connor Gilmartin, entertainment editor for a Canadian newspaper, is killed by his wife's lover, the paper's unctuous film critic, after coming upon the pair in his marital bed. Gil is astonished to find himself invisibly present at the scene, observing the craven retreat of the critic and his wife's subsequent tale to the police about her husband's fight with a burglar. Gil's next shock is learning that his fate is now tied to his murderer's and requires his joining the critic at an archival film festival. The films Gil sees, however, depict his personal history, powerfully presenting the lives of many of his ancestors. Notable among them are Anna Gage from 18th-century New York City, who takes her three children up the Hudson River in a canoe to Canada after her husband, an English officer, is killed at Breed's Hill; and a story-telling Methodist preacher in Wales. Gil's growing admiration for these flawed, courageous people reminds him of conversations with a metaphysically inclined friend who once advised him, "Feel before you think!" Relating this murder story with his customary wit, Davies resolves it to the reader's satisfaction, but the real treat is in Gil's posthumous growth to compassion and understanding. "We live and learn, yes," he observes. "But we die and learn, too, it appears." 75,000 first printing.
Copyright 1991 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

In his latest novel, the elder statesman of Canadian letters continues to explore the themes of sin, guilt, and self-discovery--the twist being that in this case the hero's discovery of self comes only after he is dead. Indeed, Connor Gilmartin ("Gil") is murdered in the novel's first sentence by a co-worker he discovers in bed with his (Gil's) wife. The indignity of being snuffed by "the Sniffer," a theater-cum-movie critic, is compounded when Gil is seemingly condemned to spend his afterlife seated next to his nemesis at a film festival. But what Gil sees--unlike the rest of the audience--is a series of highly personal films starring an assortment of ancestors. As "his" festival progresses, he develops a "sense of life more poignant and more powerful than anything I ever knew when I was a living man." While Davies's interest in metaphysics and Jungian psychology is evident, it never overshadows his story or his compassion for his characters. A masterful effort that should appeal to a wide audience; highly recommended. Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 7/91.
- David W. Henderson, Eckerd Coll. Lib., St. Petersburg, Fla.
Copyright 1991 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Viking; 1st edition (November 13, 1991)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0670841897
  • ISBN-13: 978-0670841899
  • Product Dimensions: 20 x 20 x 20 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 2.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,541,131 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Let me tell you, Davies wrote one helluva book here, and I absolutely adore Murther and Walking Spirits. It's very rooted in Eastern philosophy and is in many ways opposed to the western views on death. Westerners tend to view death as a failure or an embarassment and not as the natural course of things, like the Easterners do. This novel parodies the insincere, uncomprehending views on death that many of us hold. Davies also brings things into perspective on a larger scale by tracing Gilmartin's (the dead protagonist) ancestors, from his great-great-great grandparents up to his parents through a film festival of sorts, helping his spirit to realize what death, life, and the 'hero-struggle' really means in the long run, or the never-ending now. If anyone found this book underwhelming, it may be because Davies did not explain the character's development for the reader in clear terms, assuming perhaps they were bright enough to catch it on their own. It takes more than a little bit of thinking to get this book, and I've been doing a lot of that since I finished reading it. Davies has taught me a lot, and I highly recommend his fictions to any and everyone.
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Format: Paperback
An interesting book, I really enjoyed it. Who else but R. Davies could kill off his main character in the first sentence, and then chronicle the experiences of the disembodied ghost for over three and a half hundred pages... and yet keep it increasingly interesting? He does it. Incidentally, Davies believed that physical death would not spell the annihilation of the animating spirit of man (a belief to which I am in full agreement). He once speculated about his own afterlife by saying: "I haven't any notion of what I might be or whether I'll be capable of recognizing what I've been, or perhaps even what I am, but I expect that I shall be something." Murther is a really interesting fictional account of what that "something" might be like.
The moment that Connor Gilmartin is struck dead in his own bedroom by his wife's lover, he finds that he is still alive! Perhaps even more alive than he has ever been; he is in a state that the opening chapter calls "roughly translated". He's a ghost; a walking spirit. This new state is fraught with all manner of possibilities and limitations. For one thing, his powers of awareness and observation are heightened, but he is unable to communicate with any of the living, no matter how he jumps up and down or shouts in their ear. And for that typically Robertsonian twist, the great author borrows an idea from the Bhagavad Gita which states that after death one maintains a connection with what one was thinking about at the moment of death. (It behoved a man to be concerned with what he was thinking of as he died)! So... what was Connor Gilmartin thinking of at that moment?
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Format: Paperback
"Murther and Walking Spirits" is not part of any Davies trilogy, so Davies had one book to develop some interesting chracters, not an easy task. I think Davies did a great job in this book of presenting the struggle of more than the ghost, but of the every day person through the flashbacks/films. The ending is just what one would expect from Davies and the plot follows a simple but effective model. It starts in the real world, then moves to the "film festival", then back to the real world. The plot is like a circle, much like life. There is also plenty of wit and charm in this book just like anything Davies writes.

The down side to this book is that from the start you know the major chracter is dead, so there's no hope for him. However, some how Davies manages to show that although he is dead, he isn't without hope. The "films" he watches in the book just help him realize that he's a link in a very important chain that is his family. The hope comes from the fact that he knows he lived his life the best way he could, like all his relatives in the "films."

Character development could had been better, but a writer can only do so much in one novel. Davies was a bit too ambitious introducing all the characters he did in such a small book. However, the characters are still interesting none the less. This novel is a entertaining read and it makes you think at times. I recommend this book to anyone who read anything else by Davies and liked it, or just to someone who wants something interesting to read.
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Format: Paperback
This book was a pleasure to read. Though not a favourite of mine, it is more tender in a way than any of Davies' novels. It is slower than some of his earlier work and deals more intimately and thoroughly with the family history of the (ghost-)narrator. It may seem odd to say so but it's as if Davies is reviewing his own life, or aspects of it. A recommended read to the old man's fans.
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Format: Paperback
My quick advice: if you love Davies and you've read absolutely everything else, nothing I say will stop you.

If you love Davies and there's something else you haven't read, go read it before this one.

If you haven't read Davies, please, please don't start here because this is awful and just not indicative of what a great writer he is.

Davies was clearly touched by a bit of nostalgia, did some digging into his family tree and then decided to build a long boring story around it. The book is deceptive because it starts out as a murder and you expect to witness the ghost inflict revenge in some cunning fashion. No such excitement. Try two hundred years of immigrant movements disguised as one of those excruciating never ending black and white marathon film festivals. If this makes no sense the book probably won't either.
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