Back in 550, a monk traveling with King Arthur wrote a journal, which, if deciphered today, could conceivably lead to finding a large score of treasure.
Enter Carys Jones, a rare-book authenticator based out of Boston, who is hired by John Harper, the son of one of her longtime clients, who asks her to take a look at his father’s collection of extremely rare British Dark Age manuscripts. As it turns out, John’s dad was recently committed to a psychiatric hospital, and since his collection isn’t doing any good just sitting around, John wants to move them, if Carys can verify they’re the real deal and determine their value.
While working to authenticate the manuscripts, Carys—an emotionally unavailable loner who’s best friends are books—goes about her process, first cataloging them and cross-referencing the collection until she comes across one that doesn’t appear to be listed anywhere. Examining it, she becomes convinced the book could, in fact, lead to Arthur’s tomb and, excited by the prospect of helping with such a discovery, heads to Whales, where she connects with her estranged father, in hopes of learning more about the manuscript’s origin.
The story takes a turn, though, when Carys realizes that she and John aren’t the only ones after the treasure, as evil forces descend upon her from all angles—forcing her to go on the run. At the same time, Carys begins hallucinating and even has visions of Lestinus, the monk who wrote the journal—who begins using her own mind to communicate with her in a supernatural way.
With danger waiting at every turn, Carys follows the voice guiding her subconscious, driven to help make one of the most notable, high-profile archeological discoveries of all-time . . . but as those willing to kill in order to protect dark six-century secrets leaving a bloody trail in their wake, she’ll first have to figure out how to stay alive long enough to see things through.
In a lot of ways, Frieswic’s novel can be broken down into two distinguishable parts. The first half, which sets up the story and introduces the characters and conflict, is engaging and mysterious enough to such readers in. Then comes the bloodbath that is the second half, where nobody should be considered safe, as the body count goes way up—and Frieswic shows off a number of incredibly well-researched plot threads. That said, the pacing is a bit slow here and there, and there will be those who don’t approve of the story’s direction. Without spoiling anything, there are major twists and turns that, while they do provide shock value, won’t make some readers happy.
Carys, who is well-developed over the course of the book’s four-hundred page, is an interesting enough protagionist. Though she initially comes across as closed off and hardened, readers learn why that is later on, and she does show growth as she sets about her globe-trotting adventure, becoming more relatable as the story unfolds. Likewise, the villainous dark forces make for a scary antagonist, which is just what this type of book needs to keep the hero off-balance and on edge, and Frieswic plays that up quite well.
Filled with the kind of deep historical research you might expect from Steve Berry, mind-bending supernatural elements reminiscent of John Connolly, and the kind of horror fans might expect from Stephen King, Kris Frieswic’s The Ghost Manuscript is an entertaining thriller that should appeal to fans of those three writers.
Author: Kris Frieswic
Pages: 432 (Hardcover)
Publisher: Post Hill Press
Release Date: April 2, 2019
Book Spy Rating: 6.0/10
Praised as “one of today’s finest book reviewers” by New York Times bestselling author Gayle Lynds, Ryan Steck (“The Godfather of the thriller genre” — Ben Coes) has “quickly established himself as the authority on mysteries and thrillers” (Author A.J. Tata). Steck also works full-time as a freelance editor and pens a monthly thriller column for CrimeReads. For more information, be sure to follow him on Twitter and Facebook. He currently lives in Southwest Michigan with his wife and their six children.