Expiration Date. Book Review

eeeEXPIRATION DATE by Tim Powers
Gollancz, p/b, 400pp, £9.99
Reviewed by Stewart Horn

Twelve-year-old Poot Parganas develops an obsession with a bust of Dante that his parents treasure and which attracts ogling visitors. In a moment of madness he smashes it and releases and inhales the ghost of Thomas Edison, which was trapped inside. This strange opening triggers a series of events including the brutal murder of Poot’s parents, and subsequent adventures in a California in which there are people who prolong their lives by eating ghosts and Alice in Wonderland is a textbook.

There are several strands to this novel, but all involve people trying to remain hidden from the ghost-eaters (Powers never calls them that – they are normal apart from that one little quirk). The plot gets more and more complex as the story strands begin to entwine and rush towards an inevitable climax.

It may sound silly, but Powers builds a great thriller on this premise: there is plenty of tension as Poot and the other normals try to survive, and the plot moves along nicely, but the real strength of this book is in the characters and the world-building. Among the action there is always room for quirky characters: the faded child star, the disgraced psychic, the loquacious tramp, the one-armed psychopath, and the man who is actually a ghost possessing his own corpse. The conversations in Poot’s head between the boy and Edison are entertaining and even the minor characters are interesting and believable.

The details and mechanics of the myth are well thought through and Los Angeles’ seedy side is convincing and creepy.

A fast-paced thriller that is also a fantastical meditation on the shallowness, viciousness and caprice of Hollywood. Great stuff.