Ghost of a Chance
by Rhiannon Lassiter.
Oxford University Press 2011
This, if it’s not too contradictory a description for a ghost-cum-detective story, is a delightful novel, often deeply satisfying and always captivating. The narrative is set within the span of a month, from April Fool’s Day to May Eve, and features the ghost of young Eva, who has to act as a kind of detective to uncover the details of her own murder.
Good detective stories include a cast of suspects and a shoal of red herrings, and we get plenty of both here. Ghost stories, by definition, must offer us a closetful of skeletons, spooks and denizens of the spirit world and there are enough here too for all the proverbial hairs on your neck.
Particularly memorable are the maid Maggie, the Witch and, most chilling of all, the Stalker, who feeds off other ghosts.
What I like about this book is the various levels at which the intelligent reader can connect with it. The setting is the classic aristocratic pile and associated estate, but the author hints that she knows this conceit is open to parody by including references to Cluedo. Some of the younger characters are only dimly aware of Shakespeare, but Rhiannon Lassiter ensures that we take on board her nods to The Tempest, Hamlet and, above all, to King Lear as parallels in the plot. And I like her play on words where, for example, the young Evangeline’s name suggest that she is truly a messenger to the living concerning the dark happenings in the House.
Lassiter has also written that “Diana Wynne Jones will always be on my top ten” of favourite authors, and so I can’t help being reminded of a couple of examples from that writer’s work which must have had some influence on Ghost of a Chance. First, Jones’ The Time of the Ghost, partly based on incidents in the author’s childhood and which includes one character who experiences events as a ghost. Secondly, while the rather trite title must have suggested Eva Chance’s surname, word association drew me to the young Christopher Chant of Jones’ Chrestomanci books as a possible influence on Lassiter’s choice for Eva’s family name.
It’s probably churlish to say that there are the odd awkward explanatory passages, or that one or two characters, such as twins Kyle and Kyra and Eva’s cousin Felix, don’t always ring true as realistic and convincing individuals; I can’t excuse these by noting that this novel is just written for young adults, because that’s unfair both to author and to the intended readership. However these caveats are more than outweighed by the instances of fine prose poetry and atmospheric descriptions, plus its overall readability and unputdownable qualities.
An acid test for any reviewer is whether they would be willing to re-read a book for pleasure; in the case of Ghost of a Chance the answer is certainly in the affirmative.
Repost of a review from 28th March 2013 following a review of Diana Wynne Jones’s The Time of the Ghost for March Magics. The tenth anniversary of Diana’s death was on 26th March.