Review: “Richard Faraday, Ghost Detective”

The witty, cunning, humorous hero has been a staple of pop-culture for as long as media and modern literature has been around. While not perfect, what makes Charlie Wilkins’ debut novel Richard Faraday, Ghost Detective novel so great is that it borrows the best conventions of genre fiction–in TV, movies, comics and literature–and turns them on their head, delivering a damn good story with huge moments and surprising twists.

“Richard Faraday is the Ghost Detective. A man born a heartbeat into 1900, seemingly immortal, and with a habit of solving crimes of a mystical nature. For nearly a century the world was protected from threats from beyond by Richard and his wife, but decades ago the Faradays vanished, and they haven’t been seen since… Until now. It’s a new century, and just underneath the surface of the world an almighty evil stirs. A seemingly normal university student has her life turned upside down as a horrific haunting becomes so much more and the only one who can help her is the missing Ghost Detective, who might not be all that he seems. Richard Faraday is back, but is that a good thing?”

The story of Richard Faraday, Ghost Detective follows college student Marie-Ann Tarrant, who provides the fresh-eyed point of view of the audience as she’s sucked into this world of the supernatural. This is good: the story begins skillfully and purposely slower, building suspense and mystery, and soon the plot starts moving fast. Sometimes it’s easy to feel caught up in a current of the unknown that we the audience–along with Marie–don’t fully understand, but with time, all is revealed.

The titular character, Richard Faraday, is an enigma, and that works in the novel’s favor. No matter how much information is learned about Faraday, there’s always a piece held back. Wilkins has created a man of mystery, shrouded in a century’s worth of history and secrets. He’s witty, he’s charming, he’s affable, but there’s a ton of gray area surrounding his actions, evidenced by times when Wilkins’ makes the reader unsure of Faraday’s intent. You know he’s the hero, the “good guy,” but often you’re questioning his motivation. By novel’s end, many of these mysteries will be explored, but again, there’s always something left unsaid. All of this lends itself well to the novel, so that when the pace of the story affects the suspense of the plot, the suspense of Faraday’s history and involvement brings back the mystery.

Marie is handled well: despite her needing to rely and trust Faraday, she’s never too compliant, and neither does she come off as too needy. Of course she does fulfill the role of damsel-in-distress: but Wilkins’ makes an effort to flesh her out, allowing her to step outside of the role of “sidekick” and become more of the protagonist she is supposed to be. She is a passenger on Faraday’s wild ride, yes, but she actively tries to steer her fate by understanding her world and making her own decisions.

The plot is a clever mish-mash of mythology: Wilkins’ endeavors to give readers not just the typical “Bogeyman”, but ones drawn from the worst the world has to offer, borrowing from eastern bestiaries and demonologies as much as western fantasy. In between, he’s thrown in his own interpretations of spirituality, religion, and myth, especially when touching on ghosts and the afterlife, angels and demons, and things that are neither. There’s not much that can be said without spoiling key plot twists, but understand Wilkins painstakingly creates a world of magic with so much depth that the scope may be–and is supposed to be–terrifying.

Herein lies the only problem with Richard Faraday, Ghost Detective: the scope, the depth, the plot, is so full of twists and turns that it demands the narrative move at a fast pace. While I found the earlier chapters benefitting from a great deal of built up suspense, I found later chapters bereft of it because it became less of a horror novel and more of an adventure. To put it clearer, it starts off feeling like a mixture of The Ring and Suspiria, and then when Faraday shows up, it turns into an amalgamation of Supernatural and Doctor Who. This isn’t to say that either atmosphere is bad–the book works either way–it’s just the initial tonal shift that is a little sudden, and in turn, jarring.

This also affects the novel, where so much is happening that it sort of feels like readers are being flung from one thing to the next. Wilkins’ cleverly echoes this sentiment in Marie, who helps readers adjust to her crazy life as she attempts to adjust it herself. She’s on an adventure, an adventure she’s trying to survive, and to keep moving is the key to staying alive and finding the answers.

Overall, the monsters, the story, and the revelations revealed are more than worth it: the sheer ambition of Wilkins’ approach to fantasy and mythology is a treat in and of itself, and it’s clear to see this is an author attempting big ideas not seen before.

Final Word

Richard Faraday, Ghost Detective is a fun and wild ride that takes the horroric and blends it well with the fantastic. Despite some pacing issues born of Wilkins’ desire to tell a bigger story, this is indeed a huge story that deserves attention and has potential.

With a huge cliffhanger at the end, it’s clear to see Wilkins’ has a lot more in store for Faraday. Check it out.

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