‘New pulp’ writer George Mann has made a number of appearances on our site. We’ve reviewed his Sherlockian novels The Will of the Dead and The Spirit Box, his Sherlockian anthologies Encounters and Further Encounters of Sherlock Holmes, as well as two original series novels The Executioner’s Heart and Ghosts of Manhattan. A common feature of his work is the blurring of lines between genres. The Will of the Dead and The Spirit Box, for example are hardly traditional Holmesian pastiches, featuring as they do giant zeppelins, paranormal scares and cross-over characters from Mann’s own Newbury & Hobbes universe. Ghosts of Karnak, the follow up to Ghosts of Manhattan is again firmly in the new pulp tradition, blending together mystery and speculative fiction elements in a historic setting with a slightly innocent and nostalgic tone, designed to produce maximum entertainment.
Playboy Gabriel Cross is New York’s Ghost, a rich socialite, to all intents and purposes engaged in a never-ending round of parties with the young and the beautiful, but whose frivolity hides a darker side. Cross saw too much of what man was capable of in the trenches of World War I and what he saw can never be forgotten. At night, dressed in black with a billowing cape and mask, the Ghost flies above the streets of 1920s Manhattan powered by rocket boosters strapped to his ankles, dispensing justice with his twin 45s and flachette gun. Only NYPD detective Donovan and Sergeant Mullins know the Ghost’s real identity.
Cross had entertained dreams of leaving his double-life behind, having finally met a woman, Ginny Gray, whose intellect challenged him and whose love was a balm to his wounds. After discovering Cross’s secret Ginny fled to Egypt to escape and think things through. She has telegraphed Cross to expect her back and he was hopeful of reconciliation. However the ship she was expected to return on docks with no sign of Ginny and Cross is concerned something must have happened to her in the desert city of Karnack. Meanwhile the Ghost has his hands full. The gangster known as the Reaper has consolidated his strangle-hold on New York’s crime underworld with the help of his monstrous enforcers, a nightmarish steampunk mix of human flesh and tempered steel that have come close to killing the Ghost on several occasions.
Meanwhile, The Metropolitan Museum of Art is to hold an exhibition of Egyptian historical artifacts. A recent dig discovered a shrine to the ancient gods Thoth and Sekhmet and it will be recreated in New York. Could there be a connection between this and Donovan’s case of the recent murder of a young woman, found with Egyptian symbols carved in her flesh? Preliminary investigations suggest she has a link to the Reaper, and the suspicion that an underworld war is breaking out appears to be confirmed when the corpses of his enforcers start turning up.
By now it is pretty obvious that Ghosts of Karnak should not be for readers looking for gritty realism. In new pulp entertainment is everything, and Mann doesn’t hold back. We have a vigilante clearly in the tradition of Batman, steampunk monstrosities, and Egyptian mysticism to which I can add an occult detective and elements of Lovecraftian cosmic horror, all packed into a story as breathless as an old fashioned radio serial. For the most part Mann gets it right and still finds space for a dash of romance as well as setting the story up nicely for another sequel.
CFL Rating: 4 Stars