A Ghost and His Gold combines the paranormal with intense violent battle scenes from 1899-1902; it features three ghosts not only haunting a house and its occupants in present-day South Africa but who are themselves haunted by events in their past lives; it’s a story about seeking forgiveness and ultimately finding redemption.
Furthermore the book explores not only the horror of war, concentration camps, scorched earth policy but also date rape, rape, violence against women. Can any ever be forgiven? Can anyone carrying out these acts ever find peace within themselves and acceptance by loved ones again?
Initially, A Ghost and his Gold appears to be a normal paranormal ghost story as Michelle and Tom, both working in the finance sector although she is also a part-time writer, move into their new home. The new townhouse is situated on the site of an old Boer homestead. Michelle immediately senses and sees a presence in the house, one that makes itself known to them and their friends during a party using an Ouija board. Tom, a hard-nosed realist, is sceptical that the man named Pieter was there or even existed.
From the close-third person narrative in 2019, the novel switches to 1900 and Pieter is in his house with the family as he is woken by banging on the door with a warning that the ‘khakis’ (British soldiers) are on the way.
It is in the midst of the Second Anglo Boer War and the events focus on Pieter, his strong-willed wife, their daughter Estelle and other children. Estelle is treated with contempt by her mother, a woman who later rejects her.
As another ghost called Robert makes itself known to Michelle, she discovers his journal written whilst he was a British soldier during the war. The first-person perspective of the journal is especially powerful, personal and direct. During the siege of Mafeking, Robert befriends a young man called Richard and he takes him under his wing.
Roberta Eaton Cheadle’s research of the period is impressive. Yet she does not fall into the trap of using all her knowledge with a flood of information, rather skilfully incorporates detail where necessary; be it of the furniture or buildings of the era, the form of travel, clothes and she is particularly adept at writing battles scenes, the weapons used, their tragic consequences. I felt as if I was in the midst of the carnage, feeling the horrors experienced by Robert, Pieter and the others.
Whilst Pieter and some of his family and friends have some reservations about the war, their women have no such qualms and see no other option for their ‘Volk’. Tragically they suffer dreadfully during the war and these scenes in the book are not easy to read, horrors repeated many times throughout history and alas in present times.
The third ghost is a poltergeist who first appears on Michelle’s computer screen — this part of the book had me jumping back in fright as I read it! Estelle is consumed with ferocious anger against Tom and as she starts to haunt him he suffers nightmares and becomes increasingly sick, all the time unaware of the cause of his illness. Michelle knows the cause, Estelle, but why does Estelle hate Tom with such frightening malice and enmity? Slowly I learned her history through her own third-person narrative.
Throughout the author manages the nigh-impossible; equally portraying the ruthlessness and violence of both sides as well as their humanity and warmth. It is heart-wrenching to see how the mutual loathing and hatred intensified as the battles were protracted and that both Robert and Pieter, who had briefly met in battle, lose their kindheartedness and compassion. It is only in death that they realise the true cost of war and that so many wrongs need to be righted for them to find peace, for Estelle to be freed from her path of vengeance. However, they need help and at last through Michelle, they have found it!
The finale of the book had me totally engrossed as I read late into the night, with the story building to a crescendo of action and emotional pinnacle I could see no resolution. Luckily the author had and with expertise she brings the book to a terrific conclusion and some light in the darkness.
A brief note regarding the start of the book which begins with a list of names of famous characters from the era along with a timeline of major events. I couldn’t wait to read the novel and skipped these informative pages. They are a valuable resource but feel they might be better placed at the back of the book. The shorter explanatory notes scattered throughout the novel are extremely helpful.
This is not a book for the faint-hearted, or those seeking a simple ghost story or cosy read. One recommended for readers looking for a thought-provoking, action-packed novel with a rich variety of characters set in historical times with a paranormal twist!
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Publisher: TSL Publications
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