GHOSTS OF MANHATTAN by George Mann
Pyr, 2010, 237 pages, 978-1-61614-194-3, Trade Paperback, $16.00
When this book came out, I read a few reviews about it. Almost all of those reviews referred to it as “pulp” fiction, and it definitely meets that criteria. It’s dark, based in an urban setting full of criminals, and features a heroic avenger who, while ultimately the protagonist, goes about things in a violent way. All perfectly normal for a pulp novel and bound to be entertaining for most readers.
Yet it’s because I know that it meets these criteria that I’ve been torn about what to say regarding the book. I understand what Mann was doing by developing the story with a straightforward plot, familiar tropes, and a plethora of non-stop action. The fight scenes and chases were fun, and they guaranteed that the pages kept turning. I had no problem with that whatsoever.
But as much as I enjoyed the setting and the constant movement in the story, there were other things that I didn’t like. For one, I wasn’t in love with how the characters were handled. Not that I didn’t like the characters themselves—I really did—but I wanted to know more. I kept hoping to go deeper and really get into their heads or, perhaps, to better understand their history, but that never happened. The most background we get is Gabriel’s memories of the war, which were interesting, but not applicable to all of the characters. Moreover, I really liked Celeste, and I was disappointed when her character was relegated to being the quick solution to the climax. Perhaps it would have bothered me less had there been more foreshadowing or history that pointed to her ultimate purpose. I don’t want to be able to completely foresee the ending of a novel, but I do like to have the “ah, yes, that makes sense now” moment.
I did, however, like the way Gideon Reece was presented. With an antagonist like him, it isn’t necessary to know much about him. In fact, the more you know, the less terrifying he will probably be. And I did find him delightfully terrible. My favorite descriptions in the narrative often included Reece and his unsettling presence.
As for the plot, there aren’t a lot of surprises until the end. This is due simply to the type of story it is. Mann relies on numerous familiar elements from the superhero and vigilante genres. For the most part, readers will know what to expect as the novel progresses. As I said before, I didn’t mind this at all. It allowed me to familiarize myself with the setting and the rules of the world. Besides that, it was enjoyable to read a story that reminded me of some of the movies I had seen as a kid (the titles of which I seem to have completely forgotten).
And I did enjoy the world. It’s wonderfully noir, dark, and full of cityscapes. Mann doesn’t go out of his way to describe his new Manhattan, but it doesn’t really matter. The cover art will go far in influencing your vision of the setting, and it’s not difficult to conjure up an image of the city itself. As for new elements, such as the holotube, there is plenty of description.
That said, I wouldn’t have minded a few more surprises peppered throughout the story rather than saved entirely for the ending. As it turns out, the resolution came as a bit of a shock. I would have liked a little more hinting that it might take that kind of turn, or even more evidence that such things were possible within this world. (Sorry for the intentionally vague explanation, but I don’t want to spoil it.)
All in all, Ghosts of Manhattan was entertaining though not without its problems. The second book, Ghosts of War, should be out sometime in July. Now that I know what’s possible, I look forward to seeing where Mann takes his series.
Thank you to Pyr for providing a review copy of this novel.