Title: Ghost Town
Author: A. J. Thibault
Genre: Paranormal Thriller
Richard Hart is a highly skilled CIA operative, but with a failed marriage behind him and creeping middle-age in front, he decides to take time out. However, he still has one more mission: to meet with renowned CIA master agent, V.M. Moodbain.
Ghost Town opens in the late 1980s and heads straight into the murky world of high-level espionage. It’s a prompt start. The reader is swiftly introduced to Moodbain and Hart, and it’s abundantly clear that both men and their respective histories are full of substance and intrigue. At this stage, Ghost Town is redolent of early Ken Follett.
However, as Richard diverts from his sabbatical road trip to meet with Moodbain, the comparison with Follett ends. The reader is plunged into a surreal and temporally distorted landscape that is more reminiscent of a Dali painting—and just as curiously absorbing.
Richard is transported to 1891 and Ehrenberg, a small-town on the edge of Arizona. Ehrenberg appears to have been resurrected into a brutal, lawless dystopia, inhabited by damaged time-travelers and spectral anomalies, with no means of escape and no sign of Moodbain.
The concept involving Ehrenberg is a fantastical one. It is, in many ways, unashamedly far-fetched, but it works because of the sheer inventiveness involved in constructing the town, its people, and environment. The reader is alongside the characters in their confusion, and this collective intimacy elevates Ghost Town from a mere paranormal genre mash-up.
The attention to detail also lends the plot credibility and continuity, although this does occasionally falter. Nonetheless, the acute sense of disjointedness and displacement that Ehrenberg provokes is balanced by tightly controlled writing during the action scenes. There is also some lovely descriptive imagery, which makes the town as visual and immersive for the reader as it is for Hart.
The book employs a deceptively ambitious structure that is well-executed. It’s multi-perspective and spans several decades as the reader is taken back and forth between the various characters’ lives in past, present-day, and the bizarre vortex that is Ehrenberg 1891.
This panoptic approach helps the reader appreciate and understand why some of the characters are where they are, metaphorically and physically, and why they act accordingly.
Richard begins the book as an enigmatic character, but through the see-sawing chapters dealing with his childhood, early years, and marriage, the reader is made aware that he is a complicated, emotionally vulnerable personality, and this depth is refreshing.
Nevertheless, the issues in his relationship with ex-wife Barbara could have been explored further. However, he is given some elegantly profound passages that neatly complement his forty-seven years, and which are among some of the best writing in the novel.
The supporting cast are largely well-realized, although a few portrayals are prototypical. The grizzled old operative, George Arkin, (who was also in A.J. Thibault’s earlier novel, Deadly Serious) is nicely convincing, especially his wise-cracking, cynical dialogue which provides an amusing touch of naturally authentic humor.
Out of the contemporary time travelers, (Erica/Honey and Boon), Boon is the stronger depiction, and there are a few disturbingly visceral scenes with him toward the end of the novel. His lumbering, dumb bewilderment that turns to violent lunacy is effectively conveyed.
The reader wants to feel sympathy for Erica/Honey, but her identity is occasionally too elusive and abrasive for this compassion to always fully develop.
Ghost Town is a wild, apocalyptic ride through a complex and imaginative time traveling narrative that capably bends genres and subverts themes. A.J. Thibault has written an original and innovative book, providing entertainment and provoking thought.
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