A Manhattan Ghost Story, by T.M. Wright

Review by Gary McMahon

To my eternal shame, I'm forced to admit that I've only recently discovered the work of T.M. Wright. I've often made a mental note to catch up with his well-regarded novels, but somehow I never got round to it until now. So many books; so little time? blah, blah, blah.

This omission, I hasten to add, was entirely my loss, and I’m delighted to rectify the situation.

This Telos edition of the modern classic A Manhattan Ghost Story is a nice oversized paperback volume. The cover image might be slightly on the ordinary side, but nothing else about the book is.

It’s difficult to review a novel like this without giving too much away. Indeed, since it was first published almost twenty-five years ago, the basic concept has been ‘borrowed’ (ahem) by many different sources – including a couple of high profile Hollywood films – and to mention even one of them might give the game away.

So, a tricky task, then; but I’ll try my best.

Abner Crane is a freelance photographer who moves to New York City to work on a coffee table book consisting of images of the city. He sublets an apartment from a friend of his, whom once married Abner’s cousin – the woman Abner loved. This friend, Art, claims to be in Nice, but it soon becomes apparent that he’s on the run, and possibly hiding out somewhere in New York, and the police are very interested in his actual whereabouts.

When Abner moves into the apartment, he discovers that the mysterious Phyllis Pelleprat, a woman who claims to be Art’s current girlfriend, is already staying there. Soon Abner and Phyllis are sleeping together, and their relationship deepens by the day. But why does she constantly vanish, and what is behind her odd, erratic behaviour? And why is it that Art, over the course of several phone calls to Abner, claims to have killed her?

Soon Abner is seeing what he begins to suspect are ghosts on the streets of New York City – a group of painfully thin girls continually hailing a cab, a wan lift operator, a small boy selling puppies on a street corner. As a strange new world opens up around Abner, layer upon layer of the mysterious is revealed – and the answers to other puzzles remain tantalisingly in shadow. Some of the characters Abner meets on his oblique journey are obviously ghosts, stuck in a sort of behavioural loop, endlessly repeating the things they did in life and trying to resolve some sort of complicated ‘unfinished business’. With others, it’s more difficult to tell if they rank among the living or the dead. With some of these characters, the difference doesn’t really matter at all.

Wright’s prose is deceptively simple, and can often be achingly beautiful – the man can evoke an emotion one doesn’t even realise exists with a singe devastating line, or a graceful pared-down sentence. There is so much going on beneath Abner’s delightfully matter-of-fact first-person narrative, that soon the reader is completely involved in his (and Wright’s) world. And the world of the dead.

This is the kind of novel that, as a writer, you feel both blessed and jealous as hell to read. But that’s not to say that you will marvel at the prose alone. No, Wright possesses the skill to wrap up this wonderfully literary work in an effortlessly moving, sometimes heartbreakingly tender, page-turner of a plot, and to people it with characters that you truly wish you could meet, perhaps over a light lunch, in a public place, and certainly in broad daylight?

There’s genuine horror here, too. For instance, I found the uncomfortable sequence set in a whorehouse populated by women who may-or-may-not-be dead as chillingly affective as anything modern weird fiction has to offer. It’s a pivotal scene, and possibly my favourite in the book. It also encapsulates the unique mood of the piece – a strange, almost sensual terror – perfectly.

I could say so much more about this amazing novel. But I won’t – even though I really can’t say enough. What I will say is this: buy it, read it, and find out for yourself how damn good it is. Then seek out more of T.M. Wright’s novels, and revel in writing so pure and so masterful that it elevates horror fiction to the level of art.

A Manhattan Ghost Story by T.M. Wright. Tpb, 276 pages, £9.99. Published by Telos. Website: http://www.telos.co.uk/

This review originally appeared on Whispers of Wickedness, and is reproduced here with permission.