GORE IN THE STORE
RRP: £8.99 336pp
Released in the UK on the 13th October 2020 in paperback by Titan Books.
The Camino De Santiago is an ancient five hundred-mile pilgrimage crossing Northern Spain, attracting a large number of hikers who undertake its challenging trail for any number of personal reasons. Irish ex-pat Daniel takes on the journey to dispose of his cancer-stricken wife's ashes, to come to terms with her passing and his feelings of guilt that have arisen since she died. Meeting Ginny, a Californian who has her mysterious reasons for walking the Camino, the two soon find the journey throws up more than the usual obstacles of blisters and exhaustion when a series of eerie and disturbing incidents culminates with a ghostly figure shadowing their every move.
C.S. O'Cinneide's (pronounced O-ki-nay-da) debut novel has an evocative sense of place that displays her own experience of walking it. Inspired by this, as well as the disappearance of a woman walking the trail at the time, PETRA'S GHOST is a novel that delves into themes of Catholic guilt and loss with a helping of nightmarish supernatural proceedings. Equal parts travelogue and ghost story, the novel details every step of Daniel and Ginny's journey as they travel through numerous villages and towns, repeatedly visiting their churches and cathedrals and admiring and discussing the history of the artwork, often involving Mary Magdalene, contained within.
Such an approach soon becomes slightly wearing as this aspect slowly begins to dominate the bulk of the books page count. The mysteries raised feel barely realised and are later revealed with obvious cliches that are all too familiar, deflating the promising book's storyline. A shame as the book at several points displays that O'Cinneide can raise the hairs on the back of the readers' neck. A night-time encounter in a cornfield between Daniel, Ginny and a grossly, decaying spectral figure exhibits a level of rising tension that goes nicely with its gruesome imagery, which only increases towards the climax of the book with an increase grotesque imagery that arrives too late.
The prose, written in the present tense, holds no sense of urgency and the flat plotting and structure of the storyline threaten to undermine the character work that O'Cinneide accomplishes. Her dialogue between Daniel and Ginny rarely comes across as forced, particularly in the quiet stretches between the scares. However, her insistence on having the Irish Daniel finish off ninety-five percent of his sentences with the word "so" quickly becomes grating and condescending.
Despite such issues, PETRA'S GHOST manages to keep the reader turning the pages thanks to its easy-going nature and the number of mysteries thrown up during its quick-paced journey. The revelations behind the two central mysteries at the heart of the book may underwhelm. Still, its grisly imagery and sometimes haunting passages and dialogue, particularly involving Ginny's past and reasons for her undertaking the pilgrimage, manage to surprise and keep the reader engrossed.
Diverting enough, it shows signs of promise that O'Cinneide may be more successful when concentrating on the more supernatural and ghastly issues at the heart of this debut and less on the aspects that make PETRA'S GHOST little more than a spooky travel piece with lush scenery.