THE PLOT: ‘The Spirit Engineer’ by A.J West is spooky historical fiction set in Belfast in 1914. William Jackson Crawford is an impoverished professor of engineering who aspires to join high society. When his wife attends a séance to connect with her brother who sank on the Titanic, William sets out to prove that there’s no such thing as spirits. But as William dives deeper into spiritualism, he is confronted by a series of spooky coincidences which leave him wondering what is real…

RATING: Based on a true story, this novel is exceptionally well-plotted. There are a series of twists and turns that keep the reader engaged, which is very hard for an author to write when they have to stay somewhat within the bounds of what happened. Warning – the main character is extremely unlikeable which may put some readers off. However, I think creating such a strong character is testament to the author’s skill. This is a four-star-read and I’m excited to read West’s other books.

GOOD BITS: I was very invested and intrigued throughout reading this book, which I think is a testament to the plotting. The stakes were continually raised at regular intervals and there were a lot of developments and tension that kept me guessing. In general, I also felt the writing was very strong at a line-level. I felt very “in” the world of the book and managed to forget I was reading a story. The characters were also very strong and I really connected with William’s wife and the supporting characters.

NOT SO GOOD BITS: William is a very unlikeable main character, which is fine by me. However, I felt like his unlikeability remained at the same pitch. I felt like we needed an additional “redeeming” scene near the midpoint to give him more range. A minor point, but I had absolutely no idea how old the boys in William’s class were. This meant I had no idea how old/big his student Goligher was. At first the boys all seemed like teenagers and there was talk of them enlisting in WWI. Then, Goligher is described like William’s five-year-old son. Eventually, I settled on 10-years-old but I have no clue.

OVERALL: My brain is frazzled at the moment so I can’t think of good comps. However, I think I’d recommend this book to lovers of ‘The Haunting Season’ (short story collection), ‘The Theatre of Marvels’ by Lianne Dillsworth and ‘Burial Rites’ by Hannah Kent. These all have a similar vibe / time-period and there’s an element of mystery and unlikeable/unreliable narrators. On the whole, if you like historical fiction and you like spiritual/ghost/woo-woo stuff, read this book!

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