Rewind and we learn that our confused patient is one Rob Hale, a heating plumber by trade and racer of motorcycles by talent and inclination. (In real life, the Isle of Man hosts one of the world's most famous motorcycle races, the Isle of Man Tourist Trophy (TT)). One day Rob is called to a remote house on the island to fix a broken boiler. He meets Lena, a strange, beautiful woman, who lives in the house with two gruff-looking men. She tells him she wants to go for a ride on his motorcycle, but she can't tell the two men. Is she a prisoner? a conspirator? a criminal? who cares?
The secret motorcycle ride ends in the aforementioned accident and Lena's disappearance. Rob begins a hunt with Rebecca, the private investigator his mother hired to find out what happened to Rob's dead sister, Laura, that pits him against legal and criminal forces, both of whom are out to get Rob... and so a promising start quickly unravels into an unlikely, confusing and pretty daft tale…and keeps on unravelling.
Ewan tries his best to prolong the suspense of who Lena is, what Rebecca's role really is, and how Rob's dead sister, Laura, is involved. It's sometimes confusing to keep up with the characters – especially Rebecca and Lena, who have a vague interchangeability, as they make their way through increasingly outrageous situations, including international conspiracies, foreign billionaires, hard-line environmentalist groups and a fair dose of implausible batterings and murder.
None of the above is helped by the author – his prose reads like a middle-aged bloke's self-published ‘hero’ fantasy; and I was surprised to read that he’s published other books before and gained positive reviews. I found his prose turgid, especially in the way things were described to death; whether the logo on a business card, or the detail of every characters' outfit. Sorry, I really don't need to know that Rob completed his fitness workout ensemble with white cotton socks.
One trait of the author I found particularly off-putting was the slightly creepy way the main female protagonists were consistently described in terms of their appearance and “hotness” (Ewan’s word). I lost count of the number of times their long legs were described, or their shirts hiked up to reveal skin when they were reaching for something. It felt like the author just imagined his ideal of an attractive woman, described their appearances ad nauseam, but failed give them personalities at all – other than a uniform attraction to indecisive, slightly lecherous, middle-aged plumbers! Could have been more to them as characters but Hale/Ewan’s constant voyeuristic rating of them detracts…
I really can’t say any more than this, as you have probably guessed this is just the sort of book that both irritates and bores me…at 488 pages I feel it was probably about 488 pages too long. Harsh? Maybe, but Manx literature deserves better.
So off I go to the third constituent country of the UK: Cymru or Wales (sometimes referred to as a Principality, but let’s not confuse things further). As with Scotland and Northern Ireland, Wales has a degree of autonomy from the Union with a devolved Parliament (the National Assembly), it’s own national anthem and a language (in principle) of equal status to English. Interestingly, the only country of the UK without its own Parliament or separate national anthem is England...(Westminster is the UK Parliament).
With a population of just over 3,000,000, Wales nevertheless has a strong national identity and a – generally – good-natured competitive relationship with England in Rugby and Football (though they share a national Cricket team – more complications). It is largely known for its stunning and mountainous landscape, historic castles and rich and diverse literary and cultural history.
My port of call here is in west Wales, to a small town on the outskirts of Aberystwyth; a typical example of austerity Britain along with closed down shops, poverty, violence, drugs and decay - all surrounded by spectacular scenery and beautiful ancient lakes in a stark contrast.
I take a three hour car ferry from Douglas to Liverpool, saying a quick hello to England before rushing to catch the National Express from the bus station in Canning Street which takes me as far as Bangor, Wales on another three hour trip. I take an overnight break in Bangor at one of the many cheap B&Bs, and awake refreshed for the final three and a half hour bus trip to Aberystwyth...
As such I arrive in a post-Brexit Wales with high hopes for a redeeming novel for my journey’s closing stages. I was not disappointed... Broken Ghost is, quite simply a uniquely Welsh merging of mythology and nature, set against the modern mundanity, futility and hopelessness of small-town life in west Wales. Author Niall Griffiths takes a bleak contemporary setting and uses a notion of possible redemption, just out of reach, of rising above what Wales, the UK, the world has become; to poignant and profound effect.
This book had an honesty and a transcendence that moved me intensely and I am delighted to have discovered it.
Gweld chi mewn Cymru!