The Spirit Engineer – A.J West

Published by: Duckworth
Pages: 304
Date published: 07/10/2021
Date read: 16/08/2021

Belfast, 1914. Two years after the sinking of the Titanic, high society has become obsessed with spiritualism in the form of seances that attempt to contact the spirits of loved ones lost at sea.

William is a man of science and a sceptic, but one night with everyone sat around the circle something happens that places doubt in his heart and a seed of obsession in his mind. Could the spirits truly be communicating with him or is this one of Kathleen’s parlour tricks gone too far?

This early 20th century gothic set in Northern Ireland contains all the mystery and intrigue one might expect from a Sarah Waters novel. Deftly plotted with echoes of The Woman in Black, readers will be thrilled to discover West’s chilling prose.

Based on the true story of William Jackson Crawford and famed medium Kathleen Goligher, and with a cast of characters that include Arthur Conan Doyle and Harry Houdini, The Spirit Engineer conjures a haunting tale that will keep readers guessing until the very end.

Thanks to Duckworth and AJ West for an advanced copy of this title in return for an honest review.

First of all, can we all just agree that this is one of the best debuts – nay books – I’ve ever read.

However you can get hold of a copy – buy it, rent it, borrow it, read it over someone’s shoulder, steal it (don’t do that) – you must read this book before 2021 is out. It’s not out until October but I was lucky enough to receive an early copy and I’m so glad I did, I’m not sure I could wait another two months to receive what I now know to be an absolutely stupendous book.

For someone who hates scary movies, I’ve never found myself being frightened by a book before. So when reviews said you should only read this during the day and with never alone, I thought that was an exaggeration. I tell you now – it definitely wasn’t. For someone who believes in ghosts and spirits, it takes a very special writer to get under my skin with them, but AJ does just that with his debut novel.

It may be the e-book version I had, but the illustrations in it are so gorgeous and so clever, I can only imagine what they look like in a hardback copy, and I may have to buy one for myself just so I can hold them in my hands.

The characters that AJ has created feel so familiar, and yet so new and fresh. They feel like friends, but ones we haven’t seen for many years. Whilst it’s not a main plot point, the infrequent mentions of WW1 and the horrors and injuries experienced are done so with sensitivity and respect, avoiding using them as mere entertainment devices.

Considering this is set 100 odd years ago, it is amazing how little things have changed in the world of ghosts and spiritualism. Yes it may be more accepted to believe in it now, but you still get the skeptics determined to damn anyone who dare believe anything different.

Once the twists and turns start coming, they come thick and fast, they are mind blowing and mind boggling, and that epilogue! Wow. I can’t see a sequel happening so I will read this again and again, wishing it was the first time again. And the fact it’s based on a true story just adds to the mystique.

Oh, one more thing. When this is inevitably made into a film, please can Tom Hiddleston be cast as the main protagonist as I saw him from page one. Oh and obviously with me playing his wife, for reasons I don’t really need to get into here, but you know why.

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