Synopsis: Kate Collins has been ghosted. She was supposed to be moving in with her new boyfriend Scott, but all she finds after relocating to Brighton is an empty flat. Scott has vanished. His possessions have all disappeared. Except for his mobile phone. Kate knows she shouldn’t hack into Scott’s phone. She shouldn’t look at his Tinder, his texts, his social media. But she can’t quite help herself. That’s when the trouble starts. Strange, whispering phone calls from numbers she doesn’t recognise. Scratch marks on the door that she can’t explain. And the growing feeling that she’s being watched…
A cautionary tale about the dangers of smartphone addiction and how much they take from our daily lives, Ghoster crosses genre boundaries as it transitions from a relationship drama to a murder mystery thriller before settling on horror. The bulk of the novel focuses on Kate Collins’ journey to discover why her boyfriend has disappeared days before they were scheduled to move into his Brighton apartment together, uncovering the truth behind his secret life stored on his smartphone.
Writer Jason Arnopp creates a rich and compelling mystery at the heart of his novel, which genuinely had me guessing right up until the end. Drip-feeding clues at a measured pace, Arnopp has the reader feeling as obsessed as Kate in getting to the end of the story and makes her smartphone addiction all the more relatable. The novel feels very timely, rife with modern pop-culture references (some of which may date the novel quicker than others) and taps into a very real problem of smartphone addiction and the disparity between reality and social media personas.
For all her flaws as a character, Kate is extremely relatable to readers. During her journey to discover the motivations behind her boyfriend’s behaviour, we are given access to all of her inner-most thoughts – often shown in italics – which makes her all the more three-dimensional and real. In fact, it is as we discover more about Scott from the contents of his smartphone, he becomes less of a perfect boyfriend and more of a developed and complicated human being. Once Kate accesses his diary application, she finds out the insecurities and doubts that bubbled underneath his seemingly confident and calm persona.
Without wanting to spoil too much about this novel, as it is something that deserves to be experienced without preconceptions, there are plenty of twists and turns as Arnopp takes the story in surprising directions. The story feels reminiscent of an episode of Tales of the Unexpected or perhaps more appropriately, an episode of Black Mirror. The ending is a magnificent tour de force and will leave readers stunned, as the jigsaw pieces of the mystery come together to create a terrifying picture. While the slow-burn opening helps build the tension for the final act pay-off, the novel does feel slightly too long and could have been trimmed down by fifty pages or so in the middle without sacrificing any of the impact.
Looking at the book as a whole, it feels like three different stories blended together to make one unique novel. The initial act is a relatively straight-laced drama about a woman discovering that her “perfect boyfriend” is anything but perfect, then the second act focuses on a woman using her boyfriend’s smartphone to find out whether he is a murderer or a not, and then the final act goes “full-horror” with some bat-shit crazy stuff happening. It is this eclectic mix of genres that makes Ghoster stand out from the pack and linger in the reader’s memory. It reminds me somewhat of From Dusk till Dawn and how it transitions from a typical heist movie into a vampire horror within the blink of an eye.
Ghoster is one of those books that is difficult to review without completely deconstructing the ending and revealing the inner workings of the book. The central premise is extremely engaging on its own, but the sudden gear changes to different genres keeps the novel compelling and impossible to put down. Arnopp is an exceptionally clever writer, gleefully misdirecting both the reader and his protagonist with diary entry titles, and swerving between mundane and supernatural explanations for his various mysteries. The final act, which ties all of the clues together, is very satisfying for any armchair detectives out there and definitely earns the coveted title of “mind-fuck”.
Doing for mobile phones what Christine did for cars, Ghoster is a haunting novel in every sense of the word and will keep you gripped until that shocking final chapter. Fans of Black Mirror will enjoy the heck out of this one!
Score – ★★★★ ½
Ghoster is available in paperback format from Amazon and all good book stores or as a digital eBook via Amazon Kindle. It is also available as an Audible audiobook, and can be downloaded free as part of its 3-month trial promotion.