Reviewed by Robert Runté
I have over a dozen books sitting on my TBR (To Be Reviewed) shelf, but when Ghost Dreams showed up, I dropped everything. Hughes is my favourite living author and a national treasure. He is best known for his twenty or so SF&F novels but has also won awards for his mysteries, and his What the Wind Brings (previously reviewed in the ORB March 2021 issue) is a masterpiece of historical fiction. With Ghost Dreams, Hughes crosses mystery with the supernatural to produce a thriller of gangsters, mercenaries, burglars and ghosts.
The premise is simple: A professional burglar learns of a long-abandoned mansion filled with now potentially valuable antiques and paintings. Unfortunately, the house was abandoned because it was haunted, and the vengeful ghost attaches itself to our hero. Caught up in trying to solve the ghost's 50-year-old mystery drags our mild-mannered burglar and his autistic daughter into a series of dangerously escalating encounters with stone-cold killers.
The mystery twists and turns and kept me guessing until the end. I can usually spot where an author has tucked in some inconspicuous detail that will later turn out to be the crucial clue, but Hughes is more clever than most. The burglar's underworld contacts and insider knowledge and the daughter's computer skills create a uniquely qualified detective team to go after the ghost's cold case.
Hughes himself grew up in a family of petty criminals (his Patreon account includes captivating excerpts detailing his childhood from his upcoming autobiography) so his depiction of the criminal underworld is both detailed and compelling. Particularly fascinating is the distinction between the commercial thieves and fences (who view themselves as merely individuals contributing to the insurance industry) and the much darker world of mobsters and the criminally wealthy.
I do not know if Hughes has a similarly in-depth familiarity with autism, but I greatly appreciate his realistic, non-stereotypical depiction of the daughter's autism, her preference for computers over people, and the evolution of the father/daughter relationship. I also quite like how Hughes goes about developing both the ghost and its relationship with our heroes.
The result is a fast-moving thriller of a father and daughter looking forward to his quiet retirement but instead getting caught up in events beyond their control. They can only react from moment to moment, as ghosts and gangsters turn their lives upside down. A great, fast read.
Oh, and don't let the Hughes name under 'publisher' on Amazon.ca discourage you: This is a first-rate book from a top traditional publisher. Ghost Dreams is published in the UK by the prestigious press, PS Publishing. PS is currently in a dispute with Amazon but graciously allowed Hughes to self-publish the e-book in North America to match their UK release date, the PS hard and soft cover editions to come out later. If you have issues with Amazon, the ebook is also on Kobo and other usual ebook outlets.