Science fiction and fantasy                                            

The Waiting Room

by F. G. Cottam

cover of The Waiting Room  

Julian Creed is a TV ghost hunter. Although he's successful and popular with his audiences, this self-important, vain character isn't the type readers might immediately warm to. He's like an empty shell. Behind his façade his private life is a mess, and his psychic gift is nothing but a sham enhanced by special effects and careful research.

When retired rock star Martin Stride contacts Creed about a haunted waiting room Julian thinks it's business as usual. But one night in the derelict room soon changes his attitude. It was once attached to a train line used to transport troops to the front during the First World War. This meant it saw a lot of grief and despair, and later madness, before the place was abandoned and the rails torn up.

All around Martin Stride's estate ghostly phenomena are breaking out like a rash. Stride's children see and hear things that should be impossible. They're plagued by nightmares. The sounds and smells of another era are returning to haunt the present. Stride is convinced that whatever is going on poses a threat to his family.

Julian's talented but estranged researcher tries to untangle a puzzle that takes in the horrors of war, Italian Catholic priests, and the work of a 16th century heretic who was burnt for his sins. It centres on the figure of Patrick Ross, a young soldier who fell in battle, and his mother's refusal to accept the news of his death. But did Patrick Ross really die in the war? It's a juicy mystery which gets better the further it progresses. This is partly because Julian Creed gets more interesting and likeable once we get past the front he puts on. As well as the paranormal elements there's the question of what happened between him and Elena, and between Creed and his father, and whether any of them will be reconciled.

With contemporary ghost stories there's always a fine balance to strike between keeping a story believable and introducing enough otherness to give the narrative the necessary kick. F. G. Cottam achieves this balance, cleverly folding the past and present into an atmospheric and chilling tale. The result is exactly what a ghost story should be.

It gets better still, with a great payoff at the end, which is both unexpected and original. The Waiting Room is a beautifully written modern supernatural thriller, tense and intelligent.

28th June 2010

Book Details

Year: 2010

Categories: Books

    Male Protagonist  

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5 star rating

Review © Ros Jackson