Author: Travis Thrasher
Ghosts, gore, and a dash of God mix as the recipe for suspense in Ghostwriter, the latest Christian horror novel from Travis Thrasher. Mainstream horror icon Stephen King has been a long-time inspiration for Thrasher, and King's influence is clear in this tightly written tale of deeply flawed characters swept into a dark, emotional river of deception, depression, and grizzly tension.
As Ghostwriter begins, main character Dennis Shore's life is unraveling. From the street, his Victorian home in a suburban Chicago neighborhood appears peaceful and perfect. Inside, the lonely best-selling author of Stephen King-type fiction staggers under grief and frustration. His beloved wife Lucy is gone after a grueling battle with cancer. His only daughter-and his only distraction from the haunting memories of his deceased companion-is off to attend college on the west coast.
His house and his heart aren't all that is empty. Day after day, Dennis sits at his desk faced with a blank computer screen. With publisher's deadlines looming, his imagination is firing blanks. The creativity that has become his livelihood has left him. How he responds to this epic case of writer's block may wind up dooming him in the end. Dennis Shore has a secret that will destroy him and no one can ever find out.
Plagiarism-that's the deadly secret. Confounded by a lack of inspiration, Dennis takes a fan and would-be author's manuscript, makes a few changes, and publishes it as his own. The fan becomes a stalker determined to show off his skill at crafting frightening tales.
This time, however, the story won't be fiction. It will be a real-life horror story with Dennis, himself, as the unwilling star. What follows is an escalating, hard-edged drama where a man who wrote fictional horror, but never believed in the supernatural, lives through horror and finds faith.
Travis Thrasher knows how to tell a story. While the pages turn slowly at the start of the novel, they rustle with increasing rapidity toward the end. Descriptive narrative and natural dialogue keep things interesting once the plot starts moving. Irony and sharp humor jab from every page. However, just like its main character, Ghostwriter suffers from a few flaws that nearly result in the story's undoing.
For all the psychological tension, tingling suspense, and goose-bump-inducing thrills, it's difficult to get past the fact that the kernel of the plot is the deadly sin of (gasp!) plagiarism. Most of us have endured frightening lectures from our English teachers about the danger of stealing another person's work, but Ghostwriter brings that literary no-no to horrific, unbelievable proportions. Writers beware: Plagiarism kills.
Readers interested in exploring the Christian horror genre will want to watch their step with Ghostwriter. Those looking for suspenseful supernatural thrillers in the tradition of the likes of Ted Dekker or Frank Peretti may wish to look elsewhere. Matters of faith are a distant subplot in this yarn, limited primarily to murky references in the final chapters. Among the strongest spiritual content is a moment where Dennis Shore recalls his dying wife's vision of heaven as a "small town by a lake, with cobblestone streets." In the end, Shore tells his daughter that he's ready to believe in the existence of heaven.
Those searching for a convincingly creepy fright and are looking for an alternative to the foul language and sexual content of mainstream horror, Travis Thatcher's offering may be just what you've been looking for in your dimly lit attic on a stormy night. Ghostwriter is Christian horror-with an emphasis on horror-and fills the void as a sanitized substitute for Stephen King. If you like your ghosts and gore with a dash of God, this book may be the chilled dish you've been craving.
**This review first published on July 28, 2009.