Saturday, 7 January 2012

Ghost Song - Sarah Rayne

Do you like secrets?  Well, if you are a fan of secrets, then you will love Ghost Song by Sarah Rayne as it is a book much more about the secrets people keep and how they can shape and corrode people's lives than it is a ghost story. Set both in the present day and in the feverish weeks that led up to the outbreak of the First World War in 1914, Ghost Story is set around a mysterious old music hall and theatre called the Tarleton.  The Tarleton has been closed down since the first days of the Great War, and is bound by a strange trust that ensures that it will not be opened again until fifty years after the death of the last owner.

But although the Tarleton is shut, it is still a building that intrigues people and makes them want to discover its secrets.  Robert Fallon was a pragmatic, down to earth surveyor until he undertakes a routine inspection of the old music hall to ensure that it is still structurally sound.  Teaming up with Hilary Bryant, who undertakes research into Victorian and Edwardian theatre for the Harlequin Society who administer the Tarleton, Robert discovers that the Tarleton holds some disturbing secrets.  Why was a wall built to section off part of the cellar and the trapdoor on the stage nailed down so that there was no way of accessing it?  And who was the mysterious figure who was sometimes glimpsed muffled up in an old hat and great coat, softly singing old music hall tunes?

As Robert and Hilary begin to uncover some of the Tarleton's history, we are taken back to 1914 where Toby Chance runs the Tarleton and writes and performs popular songs with his partner, Frank Douglas.  It is an unusually hot spring, the theatre is buzzing, but the clouds of war are beginning to build on the horizon. Toby is introduced to a shadowy organisation called Tranz by a lover, and is drawn in so thoroughly that he agrees to travel to far off Sarajevo to form part of a protest against Hapsburg imperialism.  He was at first fascinated and then repelled by the movement's charismatic leader Petrovnic, and is unaware of Petrovnic's dark past and the role that he had played in Toby's parents lives.

So as Toby heads into trouble in 1914, so do Robert and Hilary as they continue their investigation.  Hilary's boss Shona Seymour has her own secrets to hide and her own reasons for being fearful of the Tarleton being opened up again, and why is Caley Merrick so obsessed by the theatre's history and the players who once performed there?

Not a book for those who are afraid to go into dark rooms alone, as Ghost Song descends into some very dark places indeed.  Will Toby be able to escape the danger that he is in and see through the smoke and mirrors before it is too late?  Will the discoveries that he makes in the Tarleton threaten Robert's career and is Hilary in more danger from someone she trusts than she could ever imagine?

One to read eating a hearty Edwardian meal such as pie and mash or bangers and mash, or even jellied eels if you can stomach them.  Wash them down with a few glasses of beer, as the secrets come tumbling out and the story of the Tarleton is told.  This is a book rich in historical details, and lovingly recreates the world of the Edwardian Music Hall, which was glamorous and colourful on the surface, and slightly tawdry and earthy underneath.

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