Book Review: Ghosts of Manhattan

Ghosts of Manhattan by George Mann, The Ghost

1926, New York. Jazz. Flappers. Prohibition. It’s the roaring twenties but not as history remembers it. Coal-powered cars line the streets of Manhattan, while zeppelins and biplanes occupy the skies. And the US is locked in a bitter cold war with a British Empire that still covers half of the globe.

This is the alternate vision of the most opulent era of New York. A 1920s that provides the setting for Ghosts of Manhattan and Ghosts of War. It’s a darker version of history. One steeped in fantastical steampunk innovations and a dark undercurrent of supernatural treachery. Organized crime rules the streets, with speakeasies on every corner. And while a run-down police force battles mobsters and their protection rackets, the “Lost Generation” is drinking away the recent nightmares of the World War.

The United States finds itself locked in a diplomatic standoff with a British Empire who has only just buried Queen Victoria, her life artificially preserved to the age of 107. The hub of both the excesses and power of the states, New York stands as a gaudy beacon for a country trying to drown its troubles in illegal gin. It’s a society on the brink of destruction, where any low level crook could be the tipping balance into lawlessness and disorder.

It’s a time in need of a hero. 

It’s a time in need of The Ghost.  

I have had the pleasure of reading some of George Mann's Sherlock and Newbury and Hobbes books and I have to say I was and still am impressed his writing is very good and addictive. Luckily for me Titan is reissuing his The Ghost series over the course of 2014-2015, and this means more reading adventures. This series does fall a bit in the lines of the detective adventures of Newbury and Hobbes and Sherlock but instead of taking place in Victorian London, the story of Ghosts of Manhattan takes place in the bristling city of New York in 1926, added to this comes the addition of a superhero vigilante instead of an investigative duo. And once again I am taken by the cool story that George Mann has written. 

Ghosts of Manhattan falls in one genre that George Mann knows how to write best. Steampunk. It's also one genre that I like to read a lot as this genre can be viewed from many different directions with purely a focus on steam and cogs or with a more scientific or supernatural approach. George Mann story of Ghosts of Manhattan falls in the latter category. I am always very intrigued by the world that George Mann builds and Ghosts of Manhattan wasn't an exception either. I liked the more natural influences that were then completely thrown overboard by some of the supernatural and science fiction influences, thereby creating a very dynamic and bristling world. There was something familiar to the story, mainly so the background of the Ghost himself that could be compared to one superhero, namely so Batman. But within the setting that George Mann has created, our superhero vigilante does make one great appearance for himself and the references to the aforementioned superhero do disappear and to be completely honest, I haven't seen Batman battle it out against Golems and Demons, or did I miss something? Ghosts of Manhattan takes place in a cool surrounding with a kick-ass protagonist. 

The story of Ghosts of Manhattan picks up with a most brutal and viscous scene, introducing the vigilante Ghost, he has been named this by his audience as he appears from out of no where. He tries to stop a bank robbery and though he does succeed in stopping it, it isn't without an innocent causality and this does raise the question whether he is in for the good or for the bad. This aside, already early on in the story you learn that he carries a nifty array of weapons and other gadgets, modified flechette guns and rocket boots! After this you are introduced many different and yet unexplainable murders that have occurred in New York city, this case is assigned to agent Donovan, who doesn't really know where to start and give the slightest explanation as to why and how. Luckily our vigilante hero mixes himself in the fray of it and together they lead the investigation. The evidence that is left behind at each crime scene are two ancient Roman coins in the eyes of the victims. This should be the fare to take them to the otherworld. These hints start the fingers pointing in the direction of a person known as "The Roman", it is said that he runs a dangerous gang. Now all the bets are off to stop the Roman and for more horrendous crimes to appear to the city of New York. 

The first 3/4 of the story deals mostely with the natural side of the world but the plot twist in the end was one that was very cool. The ancient coins and the name hints only toward an Italian person but when you find out what The Roman really is... it changes everything and does give an nice premise for the continuation of the story. Looking back on George Mann's earlier works I could have seen this coming but I was to focused on the dark and gritty aspect of the investigation that it did caught me by surprise. cool stuff. 

The characters that you follow are a bit standard when you look at their actions but when you take into account that Ghosts of Manhattan is written with a pulpy influence in the background, you should have expected this and to be frank. For me these characters, The Ghost even though he has some references towards Batman and detective Donovan, work. Yes these characters in the story work and readily make the story come to live. The Ghost has an interesting background and on the first take doesn't seem to know just what he is doing in between. yes, it is a different personality. this is where I stop with the explanation. The Ghost is just the type of vigilante that you want to have guarding the streets,. he is commited to see wrongs be put to right and he has compassion, he wants to save the innocents and not cause any casualities. In the end some stuff happens to a certain some one (sorry have to be cryptic here) that further bolsters his nature as said above. I like the Ghost already and look forward to see more action of his and of course his gadgets!

Ghosts of Manhattan further marks George Mann as one of my favorite authors at this moment. His book continue to surprise and seeing that he is involved in many different stories like Newbury and Hobbes, Sherlock, The Ghost and Doctor Who, makes him a very versatile author. His writing style is addictive and I already cant wait to read his next book. Ghosts of Manhattan is a great take on a vigilante superhero story and though it does have some links to other works of fiction, in this story, the "stereotypes" worked really well with each other and produced and action packed edge of your seat book. For me it's move over Batman and let The Ghost do your work!


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