I am not normally a person who reads a lot of ghost stories. When they get into the realm of fantasy and sci-fi I’m just not interested any more.When it all gets too unbelievable and hurdy-gurdy and Grim Reaper like, I loose interest. Rebecca Stott’s Ghostwalk is something quite different though. It’s scholarly and takes turns where you didn’t expect it to. It’s clever and interesting. It’s set in Cambridge, UK, and the ghost part of the story is lurking under the surface, it doesn’t hit you in the face though it’s always there. That, the believable characters and well researched plot, makes Ghostwalk a brilliant summer read. One you don’t want to put down until you’ve finished it.
Isaac Newton is one of the main players in the book, though it is set in early 21st century Cambridge. His alchemical interest and the alchemical networks he was involved in during the mid to late seventeenth century is at the core of the story. So is an animal rights group attacking labs in Cambridge. And a historian who is found dead in the opening of the book. She was writing a book on Newton’s alchemy and five murders that happened in and around Trinity College in the 1660s. Were they connected to Newton’s quick rise to fame and scholarly glory? No one knows. At least not at first.
When Elisabeth Vogelsang is found drowned in a river close to her house on the outskirts of Cambridge, it looks like a normal drowning. Nothing suspect. But in her hand she has a glass prism identical to one having belonged to Isaac Newton which was stolen from a museum not long ago. Her son, Cameron Brown, found her when he was paying her a visit.
Lydia Brooke, now a writer and earlier a scholar at Cambridge, is contacted by Cameron Brown to finish his mothers book. Lydia agrees, though she just came back to Cambridge for Elisabeth’s funeral. Cameron and her had broken off an affair five years earlier and she has no intention of starting all over again. But the offer to finish Elisabeth’s book is too tempting to turn down, in particular since there is only the two final chapters to finish. They are in draft form and with plenty of notes left behind by Elisabeth, so why not? It can’t be too hard, she thinks, and she will be out of Cambridge within a few months. She also agrees to the offer to stay in The Studio, Elisabeth’s house full of research material on Alchemy, the seventeenth century and Isaac Newton. Handy to have it all within reach for the work she needs to do.
And then everything starts to go wrong.
Lydia Brook has never been a person to believe in ghosts or the afterlife. When she finds out one of Elisabeth Vogelsang’s main theories about Newton and the alchemical brotherhood spreading over Europe and North America in the late seventeenth century is possibly connected to murders in 21st century Cambridge, more than three hundred years after Newton, she gets a bit suspicious. Elisabeth who had been one of the most respected scholars in Cambridge and famous for her thorough research would not have based her book on ghost stories and connections to “the other side”, surely. Or would she? That she refers many of her conclusions to “the Vogelsang Papers”, which is a record of her meetings with the medium Dillys Kite where she allegedly has been talking to Fellows of Trinity College from the 1660s and 1670s to gather information about the suspicious deaths of five Cambridge men who fell down stairs in the middle of the night supposedly drunk, it all just seems too implausible. Not like Elisabeth Vogelsang at all. But when she sees for herself that there are connections earlier scholars have only passed over or neglected, connections that shouldn’t be ignored. She also sees why Elisabeth had been so captivated in her own, last piece of work. The five murders in Cambridge in the late seventeenth century had made way for the young, overly ambitious and talented Isaac Newton. But someone is adamant that this story is never told. Someone tries to stop anyone getting to close to the truth.
The side story with the affair between Lydia Brooke and Cameron Brown is equally exciting. Where will it go? Will he leave his wife this time around? He says he will. But so he did five years ago. It also surfaces that Cameron Brown, who is a leading Neuroscientist and successful researcher running his own lab heavily financed by some big London based medical corporations, is deeply involved in something he didn’t intend to. The new drug him and his team has been working on have more uses than just battling depression. It has some much more lucrative sides to it, for some businesses in particular. How these two stories are connected, via the animal rights group and their actions, is very clever and jaw-dropping at times.
If you want a book with ghost story qualities, crime and some love thrown in to the mixture, this is a read for you. That you also learn about Isaac Newton and his for me until now unknown dabbling in alchemy is just a huge plus. Entertainment and knowledge in one book, how great is that?