Harper Collins 2010
“I've seen a ghost," said Emily. "Well, not seen one exactly. Heard one. At least, I think I have!" Everything has a rational explanation. Unless it doesn't. Welcome to Weirdsville...Woodsville is not like other towns. Night falls a little earlier there, the shadows are darker and denser, and everyone knows it's a place where strange things happen. Even if they won't admit it. Bethan would prefer to be anywhere but here. Jay has his theories, but isn't ready to share. Hashim sees more than he'll say, while Kelly's demons are all too flesh and blood. But Emily's freak-out brings them out of denial and face to face with the supernatural. Anywhere else, Friday night would be date night. But not in Weirdsville!”
(Blurb courtesy of Goodreads)
I was attracted to Nearly Departed for two reasons – it's set in the UK (most of the books I read are set in America) and it was a ghost story. For whatever reason, I haven't seen many traditional ghost stories about recently and I love them. This love affair started on reading W.W.Jacob's story The Three Sisters (very creepsome stuff) and has lasted ever since. Nearly Departed is an interesting modern addition to more classic ghost tales and certainly worth a look.
The story features five very different characters. Bethan is a smart girl who can't wait to escape to bigger and better things, Jay is the geek who believes that there's more to life than meets the eye, Hashim fills the roll of popular sporty guy but has a terrifying secret while Kelly is the tough girl whose knarly exterior hides hidden troubles. Then there is Emily who is the kind of kid who just fades into every background she's set against. This rather disparate group are brought together by a school project and further bonded when Emily reveals that she has been hiding the disappearance of her mother for several weeks. Each individual surprises themselves by pledging to help her solve the mystery and it soon becomes clear that supernatural forces may be at work in Woodsville, or Weirdsville as they come to refer to their odd little town.
The ghostly side of Nearly Departed is handled really well. The opening chapter was immersed in such a cloying, creeping, nastiness that it left me lying in bed reluctant to turn of the light – something that hasn't happened in many, many years. As the story progresses the paranormal mystery becomes more fully formed and Woodsville emerges as a hub of strange happenings and things that go bump in the night. Emily's tale, which this book focuses on, is interesting enough although I did find it slightly predictable. This does not detract from the writing though, and sometimes predictability in a ghost story can make things even more frightening (see the movie Campfire Tales all ye non-believers – all the more terrifying because you just know what is about to happen).
However, for me the real strength of Nearly Departed wasn't the paranormal aspects, but the very real characters and particularly the setting that they are in. All the characters live on a fairly rough, bleak housing estate, replete with high-rise apartment blocks and acres of concrete. While I was reading this book there seemed to be stabbings, shootings and house fires all over the UK news, all happening on similar estates. I think that this made the story seem very poignant to me – I found the idea of these essentially decent kids living somewhere so empty of hope downright depressing. The character of Kelly is particularly haunted – not by traditional ghosts but by the spectre of an imprisoned sibling and very real, very frightening violence.
Nearly Departed is the first in what I assume will be a series of books. Book two, Immortal Remains, is due out this September and I look forward to see what Rook Hastings is going to do with these fragile characters and their haunted lives.