A Remembrance Of Ghosts
By Frank Barnard
Reporter Tom Doyle uncovers a sinister world tainted by superstition, sorcery, sacrifice and death
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It is 1958. At midnight on All Hallows Eve Tom Doyle is waiting for a monster. Ancient legend claims the Looker prowls the countryside seeking unclean souls and appears once a year at this marshland church to pray forgiveness for his own sins. Doyle, a cub reporter on the local newspaper, plans to write a tongue-in-cheek account of his vigil. But the Looker fails to materialise. Instead he meets Catherine FitzNeville, the widow of an RAF pilot whose body was never found. She believes one day he will return on All Hallows Eve, the date of his disappearance in 1940, and for a moment mistakes Doyle for her dead husband, who he resembles.
Doyle is drawn into the lives of the FitzHerbert family, owners of the once great Tallaton country estate; the grieving Catherine, her autocratic father who refuses to accept that the world has changed since the war, and 17-year-old Alice who leads a wayward and secret existence. Soon he discovers that she rules over a band of devoted followers, dabbling in witchcraft and the occult at the ruins of Castle Malfaire close to Hobbs Corner on the nearby marshes where, in the tiny church, a wall-painting depicts the horrific image of the Looker seeking its prey. Doyle, strongly attracted to Alice, rejects such superstition but when he uncovers a link between her beliefs and the Looker he starts to fear for her safety. Then the Looker comes hunting for him.
Meanwhile, as strange events engulf him, Doyle’s everyday life as a newspaperman continues in the emerging world of rock ‘n’ roll, coffee bars and the rejection of old values by a new generation standing on the threshold of the nineteen sixties. Yet Doyle, soon to be conscripted into the RAF, is trapped by those who represent the past; his colleagues who survived the war, the Tallatons whose influence is a memory, his own family’s modest aspirations. His own yearnings to break free are revealed in the adventures of Jack Cleaver, the hero of a novel he is writing, a lion of Fleet Street, pursued by a French heiress. But now Doyle faces the future uncertain of his own role and even whether he has one, endangered by growing threats from an unknown source that claims to be the Looker itself. A future tainted by superstition, sorcery, sacrifice and death.
‘Beautifully crafted and with an immaculate sense of time and place it is as if the Michael Frayn of Towards The End Of Morning (and possibly William Weintraub of that other newspaper classic Why Rock The Boat?) has joined (dark) forces with a Kentish Daphne du Maurier. The phantoms that come to inhabit A Remembrance Of Ghosts will continue to haunt you long after the final page.’
Robert Ryan, author of Early One Morning and Dead Man’s Land
‘I loved this book. It’s a properly spooky ghost story but also a wonderful portrait of a young man growing up in the 1950s, a world still overshadowed by memories of war. It is a story about class, love and coming-of-age as well as being a really twisty and satisfying mystery. I found the conclusion both moving and uplifting.’
Elly Griffiths, author of the Ruth Galloway mysteries
‘A Remembrance Of Ghosts is superb, a wonderful book. Frank Barnard is a damned fine writer.’
Peter James, author of the Roy Grace thrillers
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Frank Barnard wrote his first (unpublished) novel when he was an 18-year-old journalist. ‘ They say write about what you know and I didn’t know anything,’ he recalls. So he decided to come back to fiction after a career that spanned advertising and public relations heading various agencies in Europe and the States. He retired in 2002 and Blue Man Falling about fighter pilots in WW2 appeared six years later. Three more titles followed, mostly about flying. A Remembrance Of Ghosts is a departure, the 1950s newspaper setting partly autobiographical; Barnard left Sevenoaks School at sixteen to join the Kent Messenger, a time he evokes in this new work. He is married with two daughters and four grandchildren and lives in rural Somerset. Apart from writing he is a weekend racing driver, the only novelist to compete in the legendary Formula Ford Festival.
Now I wandered between the graves for a bit, thinking about dead people, whether it was better to be buried and moulder away, leave some fragments of yourself, or disappear up a crematorium chimney, but then the cloud built up, grew darker and veiled the moon, a vague, silvery disc making it hard to see without the torch. I had no sense of threat from the hundreds of cadavers around me. Like the man (or maybe woman) said: ‘ Such as I am, so will you be.’ Life, death, no mystery, we’re here, we’re gone. Nothing before, nothing after. I felt secure, protected by my power of reason, immune to fables of dark forces, satanic powers, visitations from the un-dead, the occult, the whole gamut of nightmarish cobblers dispensed by shamans, sorcerers, mystics, madmen, crooks and crackpots, tellers of tales, spinners of yarns and not forgetting vicars. But inwardly, hardly admitted to myself, I was aware of a tiny grain of inbred superstition, some throwback to a long-lost Doyle capering round a bunch of stones on Salisbury Plain or somewhere, a Doyle believing that fairies could steal a baby, a Doyle watching an old woman burn, believing she was a witch. The vision passed. I dared the Looker to appear, and prove me wrong.
I’d left the lights on in the church and there was a cosy glow through the stained glass windows. It was cold out here I realised, so cold a shiver ran through me that came up from my feet, passed through my body and into my brain like an electric current. In that moment I felt it contained everything there was to know, good and evil, and yet the key to that knowledge was just beyond my grasp. The sensation faded as I walked towards the church, stumbling a little over wreaths of decaying flowers and overturned funerary urns, but when I reached the porch my hands were prickling and wet with sweat. I looked at my watch. It was a quarter to midnight.
- 9th September 2019 The author aged 19, on whom Tom Doyle, cub reporter in AROG, is (to some extent) based6th September 2019 The mysterious castle
One of the characters in A Remembrance Of Ghosts is not human...and it's not the monster Looker. Instead it's a castle and it exists, or at least its inspiration does, on the Romney Marshes. I won't give away it's location at this stage other than saying it's very remote, so rarely visited it can be said to have been almost forgotten, and has a notably eerie and sinister atmosphere that made me want…
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