Book Review: The Haunting of H.G. Wells

The Haunting of H.G. Wells
by Robert Masello
Historical Thriller/Paranormal
398 pages
Expected publication: October 1, 2020 by 47 North

After a strange story appears in newspapers about a platoon of soldiers in the trenches of France being saved from certain death by the appearance of ghosts, the British government recruits celebrated science fiction author H.G. Wells to go to the front lines of WWI to find out if this strange story has any merit. In the trenches, Wells meets doomed soldiers and living dead men, but no ghosts. Or does he? Meanwhile, back in London, Wells’s young lover Rebecca West investigates a mystery of her own, which leads her to a den of occultists and a conspiracy that could lead to England’s defeat in the war.

“The sight was so transfixing, the night air so refreshing compared to the stultifying atmosphere in the dugout, that he remained there, lost in thought until the dawn broke, and he became aware of the soldiers, roused by their officers to take up their positions, beginning to fix their bayonets and ready themselves for battle. A pair of them, one holding a bucket and the other a ladle, went up and down the line, dispensing a spoonful of rum to each soldier in place. Wells passed on his own– better it should go to one of the lads about to go over the top…”

It is a requirement of thrillers and mysteries that they be tightly plotted, with nothing extra to slow down the action or take away focus from the primary plot. And so it’s frustrating that The Haunting of H.G. Wells takes too much on– too many points of view, and an extra sub-plot that adds very little to the story save to give Jane Wells something to do in her country home, far from London or the front lines where the bulk of the action takes place. For all that Jane’s situation is complicated, it serves as more distraction than intrigue, taking attention away from H.G. and Rebecca’s respective investigations.

Still, The Haunting of H.G. Wells is an engaging story, leaving the reader to wonder– along with the characters– if the ghosts of the opening story were real or not, even if that mystery is stretched out a little too long, pushing the mechanics of the plot to the second half and the most exciting parts to the last quarter. The first half of the story is loaded with the human element. There, the reader encounters life on the home front during German zeppelin bombardments, discovers the rampant anti-German sentiment in England at the time, and meets a plethora of soldiers from all sides. It’s as though Masello couldn’t decide if he wanted to write a human interest story or a thriller and so wrote both.

But if a reader is fascinated by historical detail– particularly that of England in 1914– there is more than enough to go around. Almost too much, if one is looking for an exciting thriller to pass the time. And while The Haunting of H.G. Wells doesn’t have the breathless pace of something like The DaVinci Code, it is a book that knows precisely what it is– a fun and exciting book, and even if it stretches itself out overmuch, even the unnecessary sub-plot has its charms and tension.

So while The Haunting of H.G Wells is not top-shelf literature, it was really never meant to be. It is escapist fun that manages not to take itself to seriously. It gives us real historical figures engaging in actions that are believable enough to think that they could actually have happened, while brushing up against other real and notorious figures. Fans of historical thrillers will find it to be an exciting race through WWI-era England, while general fans will find it to be a fun way to spend a few hours, whether on the beach or curled up with a blanket in a favorite chair.

Thank you to NetGalley and 47North for providing me with a free ebook in exchange for an honest review. This did not affect my opinion in any way.

Purchase links:
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13 thoughts on “Book Review: The Haunting of H.G. Wells

  1. I usually steer clear of these sorts of books, ones that take real historical individuals and put them into completely fictionalized settings. I’m not entirely sure why I do that. Perhaps one day I should seek out some of these books and give them a try. Maybe I’ll be pleasantly surprised. I enjoyed the review. It’s nice having these simple but fun books to spend some hours with.

  2. Mantel’s work isn’t completely fictionalized, though. She uses history as her foundation and lets her fiction seep in through the cracks– the conversations, Cromwell’s motives.. It’s fiction, yes, but close enough to the historical record that when I read a biography of Cromwell, there wasn’t a major difference. There are plenty of writers who will radically change events to suit their stories, but Mantel really isn’t one of them.

  3. How interesting. Was HG Wells someone interested in mysteries? I read this synopsis and I expect something like Sherlock Holmes meets Doctor Who. I don’t think that motivates me to read it– but I do like the idea of exploring 1914 England in detail!

    If you had to classify the genre of this book, what would you select? There are so many elements… science fiction, mystery, thriller, historical fiction… It’s making my head spin!

  4. I don’t know if Wells was interested in mysteries. In the book he is, but that’s the book. I know very little about Wells’s life.

    I think I’d call it an unfocused historical thriller. It was fun, but could have used some much tighter editing.

  5. Haha. I love that: “unfocused historical thriller”. I have been paying closer attention to editing lately and I think this lack of focus is a trend right now. I don’t know why, but a lot of 2019-2020 books I’ve read feel this way.

  6. But if advance reviews are saying, “this book is unfocused and spends way too much time wandering about”, are people going to be more or less likely to buy it?

    Though, I guess there are pleny of bestselling authors whose books have only a passing acquaintance with spell check and/or Grammarly..

  7. I dunno. I never read advance reviews. But I also rarely pick up books randomly. The only time I end up with “I dunno what about… this one?” books are when my audiobooks end, a new one hasn’t come in yet, and I need something to listen to stat. And that doesn’t happen often. Typically I get all sorts of recommendations from bloggers, plus with buddy reads and book clubs, I feel like my reading is very intentional through personal recommendations.

    Ugh. I hate it when there are typos. The last three Valdemar books we’re reading this year I am consuming in omnibus form. So. Many. Typos. And grammar errors. It’s like… guys, come on. These cannot be in the original edition. Many are not even the “oops, that’s a real word but not the right word” sort of things. Incomplete words, spaces in the middle of words, missing punctuation marks… it’s so embarrassing for the publishing company.

  8. There weren’t typos in the H.G. Wells book, and I haven’t come across any in a long time. I’m thinking more about books that are just badly written with poorly written tropes, pointless repetition, and bad dialogue– stuff an editor should have caught and fixed in the publication process, but it wasn’t dealt with at all, and the books go on to be bestsellers.

  9. I don’t get that. But I also cannot articulate why I can blaze through a bad erotic vampire book and devour 400 pages in one day (for a slow reader that’s a big deal!) but I’m taking Dune VERY slowly. Dune is obviously the better book.

    How do bad books become best sellers? I don’t get it. I’m lookin’ at you Maas!

  10. I wish I knew why bad books became bestsellers! It’s not for the escapism, because there are plenty of great books that offer a fantastic escape…

    Bad erotic vampires books. I can’t say that I understand those, either.

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