Mary Robinette Kowal’s Ghost Talkers imagines a WW1 where spiritualism—mediums, seances, circles, all that—is real, and where the British are secretly gathering military intelligence from the recently dead. Which is going well and all, until one dead soldier reports treasonous murder, and now we’ve got ourselves a mystery/conspiracy novel.

So what this reminded me of was a Connie Willis novel, one of those farces like To Say Nothing of the Dog or especially, even though they’re different wars, Blackout. It’s not really a farce—it’s basically a straight suspense thriller—but the characters have the same kind of jocularity, and there’s the same madcap running all over chasing after clues.

And also, frustratingly, there’s the part of the book where if people would just relax, talk to someone else, and compare notes, they’d be able to short-circuit a whole bunch of unnecessary excitement. To her credit, Kowal motivates the lack of communication a lot better than Willis usually does—there’s a conspiracy, and without knowing who’s involved, it’s impossible to know who’s trustworthy and who’s not—but it’s still frustrating to read through, even if it does make sense in internal story logic.

Still, that’s not a huge complaint. This is a light, breezy read despite the nominal heaviness of a WW1 setting; recommended for airport reading or its equivalent.


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