Bethan, Kelly, Jay and Hashim know all too well that they share their hometown with a sizeable population of ghosts. They've even hung out with one of them. But when a girl from a local boarding school gets in contact, asking for their help, they find themselves caught up in something way beyond their experience. Something is killing the boarding school girls, one by one. Something that's cursed them... with death.
Scary stories: I love 'em. A few months back, I found myself impressively wigged out by Rook Hastings' Nearly Departed, the first novel set in supernatural hotspot Woodsville, UK. In Immortal Remains, the second book in the series, the main players have come a long way from the mismatched group of teens thrown together in Nearly Departed. In fact, they're on their way to forming a solid friendship - if they can put aside the various unrequited loves and romantic tensions between them, that is. All except Hashim, who as the series' resident ghost seer has his reasons for wanting to avoid tough girl Kelly, misfit Bethan and nerdy Jay. While the other three prepare to solve their second supernatural mystery with varying degrees of willingness and reluctance, Hashim is throwing himself into football, and trying his best to ignore the fact that Weirdsville's ghost population are determined to get in his face at any given opportunity.
Still, it's not like the other three are having an easy time either. Once again, they're tormented by both paranormal threats and the pressures of growing up on a rough housing estate in a town where the only career options are working in the local factory or unemployment. Even without the supernatural dangers that lurk in every corner, Weirdsville is a pretty miserable place: think gangs, drug culture and poverty for a start. It's this doubly dark quality that gives this series its ability to truly unsettle the reader - and that makes our ghosthunting quartet so uniquely compelling. If anyone is going to be brave enough to face off with evil spirits, you can bet it would be the kind of teens who look very real dangers in the face every day. If all this sounds a little depressing, it really isn't. In fact, in a town where people only stay because they've got no way out, Kelly and co are trying to change things. In its own roundabout way, this is a series that says you don't have to bow down and accept your fate.
After the eerie start to the series in book one, Immortal Remains takes the scare-factor up a notch. As the group try to solve a ghostly mystery at a local boarding school for wayward girls, they're faced with a series of gruesome deaths that all point to a supernatural curse. And when I say gruesome, that's exactly what I mean: I challenge any reader not to shudder at the description of the unfortunate girl who wakes up inside a refuse truck and tries desperately to claw her way out. Even spookier is the doppelganger who appears with a terrifying message of foreboding for Jay. Seances, curses and ghostly warnings: all this is served up with extra helpings of Weirdsville's uniquely British recipe of dark urban atmosphere. Will you have nightmares? Maybe. But if you like ghost stories, that's probably exactly what you're hoping for.
Immortal Remains is a fantastically creepy return to Weirdsville. It's the kind of book that'll have you checking under your bed before you get into it. Perfect for those foggy Autumn evenings in the run up to Halloween, this is one for readers who enjoy scaring themselves.
Out: September 2nd 2010, UK
Thanks to HarperCollins for providing a review copy of this book.