From Modern Mythcraft to Magical Surrealism

Ghosts of Manhattan: A Tale of the Ghost by George Mann

Review by Cynthia Ward

A sinister crime boss, known only as “the Roman,” rules Roaring Twenties Manhattan‑-but it’s not the Manhattan we know. Coal-fired automobiles cruise the concrete canyons, rocket-boosted biplanes launch from the lofty rooftops, and a Cold War chills relations between the British Empire and the United States. In a fabulous mansion, a wealthy veteran struggles with ennui and a sense of purposelessness. Meanwhile, a mysterious crime-fighter, known only as “the Ghost,” watches over Manhattan in his trenchcoat full of tools and weapons. He stalks the Roman across the corrupt metropolis, even as he battles the internal demons raised by his wartime encounter with cosmic horror.

In short, Ghosts of Manhattan is the answer to a terrific high-concept question: What if the Great Gatsby was Batman in a steampunk Cthulhuvian universe?

Author George Mann’s answer is interesting, if rather uneven. His antiheroic, non-superpowered superhero is a dark, tormented, fascinating character, with a suitably powerful and villainous opponent. However, the prose tends to rely on pulp cliche (no one smokes or drinks when they can take a long pull or draw), and both protagonist and setting are somewhat underdeveloped. Mann, seeking to hide the ultimate nature of the Ghost’s foe until the climax, keeps his war memories vague; this frustrates readers, rather than deepening their understanding by suggesting the true, horrifying nature of the protagonist’s war experiences. As for the setting, details of time and place are somewhat scanty and generic, especially given what a dazzling place the Manhattan of Prohibition, the Jazz Age, and Art Deco—even without the alternate history embellishments—must have been.

Ghosts of Manhattan may not win many converts to the steampunk, superhero, or cosmic horror subgenres; but it will please many devotees of those forms. And it could serve as the basis of a dandy graphic novel, preferably illustrated by Benjamin Carre, whose wonderful retro-pulp cover for Ghosts of Manhattan is such stuff as authors’ dreams are made of.

Ghosts of Manhattan
By George Mann
Pyr/Prometheus Books
ISBN: 978-1-61614-194-3
274 pages | Trade Paperback | $16.00
April 2010

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