The Haunting of H.G. Wells
by Robert Masello
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.