THE SPIRIT BOX by Stephen Gallagher
The Brooligan Press, 284 page p/b, £7.99
Reviewed by Pauline Morgan
They say that some of the most stressful times in a person’s life include moving house, changing jobs and the death of a close family member. When all of these come at once it is difficult to know how to cope. The mind will either collapse in on itself or find another focus, pushing the upheavals into the background.
In The Spirit Box (a reissue from an original 2014 publication) the narrator, John Bishop, has come to the end of his contract with a research organization in the United States and is preparing to move back to Britain. His wife, Sophie, has already gone and he is in the process of moving out of the company-supplied home to spend the last days of his tenure in a hotel with his daughter, Gilly. He is the kind of man who has been so focused on the job that he has become oblivious to the needs of the people he should be closest to. In an instant, his world shifts. Gilly tells him that she has swallowed a concoction of pills that Sophie left behind and has waited an hour for her father to realize something is wrong. When Gilly dies, despite his best efforts to get her help, he goes into fugue mode.
The first stage of grief is denial. Bishop goes to work, not telling any of his colleagues what has happened. The Spirit Box of the title is a secure area in the basement of the analytical labs he has helped set up. Some samples have disappeared from there, ones no-one knows what they are for. Bishop has been given the task of finding out who took them and, if possible, recovering them, but quietly without getting the police involved. He shuts out the death of his daughter and focuses on finding the thieves. As his personal life unravels he becomes convinced that he needs to find Rachel, the intern involved with the theft as he becomes aware that she had swallowed the chemicals to get them past security. In his way is Cyrus, a disturbed young man who is convinced that he can sell the samples for a lot of money and won’t give up that delusion regardless of any other consideration such as Rachel’s life. For Bishop, finding and saving Rachel becomes a step towards redemption in failing to save Gilly.
The narrative in The Spirit Box is driven by the mindsets of the characters, not just of Bishop but by the fantasy of Cyrus. Both of them are determined to achieve the goals they have set themselves, but only one can succeed. There is horror here in the way people react in the situations they confront. There is only a touch of the supernatural which can be explained by Bishop’s wishful thinking.
The book, however, is a solid crime novel and it is very pleasing to see it back in print. Recommend