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Sunday 6 February 2022

‘Ghost Song’ by Sarah Rayne

Published by Simon & Schuster,
2 February 2009.
: 978-184737317-5

Sarah Rayne is a writer with a unique talent. Whatever your taste in crime, I defy you not to enjoy Sarah’s work. Ghost Song has all the ingredients that make a good crime novel, and more.

A Victorian Music Hall theatre- The Tarleton, built on the Bankside in London has had a mysterious restraint order placed on it for nearly a hundred years. Hilary Bryant is a researcher who works for the company that hold this mysterious order, and when researching for music for a radio project, she comes across a song written and performed by the music hall entertainer Mr Toby Chance who coincidentally starred at the Tarleton. More research discovers this debonair and popular performer had mysteriously disappeared during the height of his popularity.

When Robert Fallon is engaged to survey the building, Hilary accompanies him, and both are drawn into the silence of this theatre with its history and the ghosts of its colourful characters who once performed on its now empty stage, and then a mystery presents itself. The love interest between Robert and Hilary, which in itself is delightfully written, comes about by the quest of both parties to find out what lies behind this mystery, and who is the ghost that walks the passageway behind the theatre in a long cloak and tall hat.

As with all good crime novels, nothing is what it seems in this book, and the twists and turns that Payne turns out is nothing short of a masterpiece. When the mysterious restraint order is then lifted to allow the theatre to once again be opened for business, and brings up mixed reactions from unexpected quarters, the story then takes a very unexpected turn and the pace and drama hot up yet again, as yet another twist hits as hard as turning a corner into an open oak door. The story is told half in modern day and then moves back to the Edwardian period. Often when a book is written from modern day to flash backs it can become bumpy or take a paragraph or two to adjust; not with this one, Payne’s writing has an effortless flow and an easy style. The characters particularly are well drawn, the performers are so colourful, clear and well-focused, I felt I knew them. The backstage environment is spot-on- I could almost smell the kippers she talks about.

I think that ghost in Platt’s alleyway is lifting his tall hat in a salute to Sarah Payne, she has written a book with so many surprises, layers, and unexpected turns that you really cannot put it down, just when you think you know what’s going on, in she comes with yet another.  I can’t recommend this book highly enough. I have dark circles under my eyes because I sat up all night, refusing to put it down. 

Reviewer: Linda Regan
Other books, Roots of Evil, Spider Light, The Death Chamber, and the latest book, House of the Lost

Sarah Rayne's first novel was published in 1982, and for several years she juggled writing books with working in property, pounding an elderly typewriter into the small hours in order to meet deadlines.  Much of the inspiration for her dark psychological thrillers comes from the histories and atmospheres of old buildings, a fact that is strongly apparent in many of her settings - Mortmain House in A Dark Dividing, Twygrist Mill in Spider Light, and the Tarleton Theatre in Ghost Song. She has written more than 25 books to date, and her work has met with considerable acclaim. Her books are also published in America, as well as having been translated into German, Dutch, Russian and Turkish.  In 2011, she published the first of a series of ghost-themed books, featuring the Oxford don, Michael Flint, and the antiques dealer, Nell West, who made their debut in Property of a Lady. Several years ago Sarah also wrote six contemporary horror books, originally under the pen-name of Frances Gordon. Her most recent series features music researcher Phineas Fox. There are five books in the series.

Linda Regan is the author of six police procedural crime novels. She is also an actress. She holds a Masters degree in critical writing and journalism, and writes a regular column, including book reviews, for three magazines. She also presents the book-club spot on BBC Radio Kent. She is an avid reader and welcomes the chance to read new writers. 

  To read a review of Linda's most recent book
The Terror Within
click on the title.

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