Rating: 3.75 stars
Chris Mullens is a reporter/investigator for The Paranormal Times and he is slowly coming to the realization that the years have been piling up behind him while he has stayed relatively static. He has remained at the same job for over 10 years, with no social life or partner to speak of. He lives with Jo Perry, his co worker at The Paranormal Times and has been her intermittent bedmate when she wants it. The book he meant to write has never been started and lately all the leads he has followed for paranormal activity have not panned out, either they were hoaxes or just someone’s overactive imagination. The one thing Chris has decided he wants is to win the coveted Moondust Award for the first journalist to prove the existence of ghosts and the next case their editor hands them just might do the trick if its authentic.
Their editor tells them that in the village of Kilveenan, off the coast of Galway in Ireland, there is a church said to be haunted by the ghost of a dead priest’s son, but the twist is that the son supposedly died in the Great War, so why is he haunting his father’s church? Chris readily accepts the assignment and is eager to be off, Jo Perry, his journalistic partner for the story, seems less so. In fact she is starting to sound as though writing about paranormal events are the last thing she wants to do. When the unhappy couple arrive in Kilveenan, they discover it’s not the church that is haunted, but the priest’s house next door and by a spirit so filled with rage that just for Chris to enter the cottage puts his life in jeopardy.
The more Chris investigates the cottage’s history, the more evidence he uncovers that involves, murder, murky family relationships, and a son that never returned to the battlefield. And what little relationship he had with Jo is disintegrating the longer they stay in Ireland. When Chris and Jo meet up with Paulie and Bill, a gay couple on holiday staying at the same inn, Chris’ attraction to Paulie confuses things further for Chris, just when he needs all his attention to be focused on his investigation. The ghost in the cottage is shaking Chris to his foundations, tearing him apart in every way. Will he survive his ghostly encounter?
Gleams from a Remoter World has so many lovely elements to it, especially at this time of year. The first thing that attracted me to the story is the setting. I love Ireland and when a story is situated in a coastal village, you have my attention. But even better is when the village and it’s inhabitants are so beautifully described that you feel a part of the place itself, then mark me down as a happy camper. I loved Glass’ vivid portrait of life lived at the edge of the ocean, cold, wet winds whipping up the cliffs, moisture clinging to every surface. The rain hitting you so hard it pummels you. I loved the variety of people we meet (thank goodness, none are of that Irish leprechaun variety, twinkling eyes sort of thing), more of the brusk common sense type of folk. Had this been a travel guide I would have been booking a flight out immediately. off to see Kilveenan.
I am unfamiliar with all those ghost hunting shows or the people who track down paranormal happenings, so I don’t know anything about the equipment they use. I can see the running around ruins and graveyards (done that myself a time or two) and again the author’s gift for describing the Irish landscapes and buildings give the reader an immediate closeup feeling to the scenes underway. I loved the ghost story here that incorporates all the good elements of a murder mystery, familial relationships, and a love affair that was hidden. The author did a wonderful job of building the suspense with the ghostly apparitions, the drops in temperature that herald the appearance of the angry spirits, the change in color of the surroundings when history unfolds before Chris’ eyes. Also realistic is the boring, tedious research that had to be done into the background of the church and the Anglican priest who presided over it and its members. Fiona Glass made this part feel so very authentic, right down to the dusty tomes and hard to read signatures on ledgers. Again, the author brought this element to life for the readers to the point we could almost breathe the musty air of the small town offices they had to visit for their information.
And then there are the characters of the story and my main quibbles come forward. I can pretty much narrow down my issue with this story to two words: Jo Perry. Chris Mullen, his interaction with the paranormal, and his interest in Paulie should be the main focus of the story. But Jo Perry keeps interfering in almost every way possible, including my enjoyment in the book. This is a m/f story that becomes a m/m story as Chris is clearly bisexual, which is just fine. But the problem is with the amount of time she figures in the story, which is too predominate for my taste and the fact that she is inherently unlikable. Jo Perry is supposedly a long time friend/partner of Chris, they graduated from the university over 20 years prior but does she act like a friend? Not in any way you would recognize. She is distant, dismissive, uses Chris as a sexual partner when it is on her terms but possessive when he looks elsewhere. She is rude, bratty to all about her, treats Chris like a doormat, and it turns out she is homophobic to boot! All of this would have been fine if first she had taken up less of the story, and secondly, the author had the other characters around her react to her behavior in a realistic manner. That did not happen unfortunately.
Then there is the character of Chris Mullen, who I happened to like quite a lot. He is a quiet, thoughtful person whose good nature and calm demeanor seem to make it easy for Jo to take advantage of him. Chris apparently dislikes confrontation to the point of submerging his wants almost completely in deference to other peoples needs and expectations. While some might attribute that to a “lack of backbone”, I can see the glimmerings of a different take on his behavior altogether, such as an inclination towards depression. Two much of this book involves conflicts between these two characters of Chris and Jo instead of centering in on Chris, Paulie, Paulie’s long term partnership with Bill who is suffering from full blown AIDS, and Bill, who I was sure realized that Chris was attracted to his partner. What a wasted story element. This awkward triad had so many interesting elements going for it. Apparently Bill has been suffering from AIDS for three years and this was a “last vacation” for them both. I wanted to know when was he diagnosed with HIV? How had that effected Paulie? When you have a ghost filled with rage, how interesting would that have been to contrast that with the rage/anger of Paulie? Or even Bill? Like I said, a missed opportunity to concentrate on people I wanted to know so much more about than Jo Perry.
We are given one or two hints to explain their behaviors. She is bitter about a divorce, he is “depressed” but neither explanation is gone into detail, and it never redeems her behavior. This is especially true when it turns out that she is homophobic to the point of rudeness and anger, attacking Chris for his bisexuality and the other men for their gay partnership (even one that is critically ill!). Chris’ depression is mentioned once or twice, but it is clear that he has never done anything about it. Then there is the weight around his neck (and the readers) in the form of Jo. Towards the end of the book when she has left (of her own accord by the way), Chris’ boss mentions how much Chris has moved forward in the last several weeks. Does no one in the UK come right out and say “Well, thank god, that soul sucking monster has left the building?” Is that not “done” over there? And for one final blow, literally, to the reader and Chris, on her last appearance, she smacks Chris a hard one across the face when she takes insult over something innocuous he said that she misconstrued. But does he finally let her have it, at least verbally? No, she has her homophobic way one last time. Little by little this character interaction just leached away my good feelings about this book, leaving me with a sour taste in my mouth over abusive behavior given its own reward in a manner of speaking.
So, after all that, it does have a wonderful and wonderfully realistic ending, a HFN that is in keeping with the final two characters I think. It also left me very conflicted over the rating. So much of this book is deserving of a 4 rating or higher from the settings to the paranormal mystery to even the character of Chris Mullen himself. But it is dragged down by the repellant persona of Jo Perry and her over the top involvement in the plot and her overextended presence on the page. I cannot tell you how many times I wanted to pull up a chair next to Fiona Glass, hand her a red pencil and a glass of cabernet and talk about this book! Because really this is ¾ of a wonderful book. Oh well, in any case I will certainly be looking forward to others Fiona Glass writes but color me divided when it comes to Gleams from a Remoter World.
Cover art by LC Chase. I like the gray color tones and the ruins in the background, perfect if you are looking for ghostly ambience for the book cover.