Updated: Dec 3, 2019
A few years ago, I stumbled upon Duncan’s work when I read his novel, Woom. It was a brilliant piece of writing that managed to be twisted and disturbing, yet also just downright compelling. I won’t go into any details of the plot as I don’t want to ruin it for anyone, but suffice it to say, it’s a story about love, loss and rebirth. I highly recommend it for anyone who wants something disturbing yet ridiculously addictive to read.
However, that’s not what we’re here for today. Today is all about Ghostland, Duncan Ralston's latest novel.
I once took the piss (in a nice way) out of Duncan when I reviewed Woom by asking whoever heard of anything scary being written by someone called Duncan? People called Duncan are more likely to be accountants rather than horror authors, but then I realised something. Look how many horror authors have perfectly normal names; Stephen? Clive? Brian? James? All horror authors; so I guess the old adage about not judging a book by its cover is apt when you use it in reference to the name of a horror author.
Talking about book covers though, just look at the cover for Ghostland, it’s fucking awesome. I can’t talk about the book without mentioning that gorgeous cover art by Dean Samed. I could stare at that picture for ages, in fact, I hope that it becomes available as a print because I think it would fantastic on my wall.
I love how eye-catching it is too, neon pink on a horror novel? Never would have thought it would work, but it bloody does.
There is some other artwork to do with the book that I also want to mention and I’ll get to that shortly after I’ve described the story a bit.
Annoyingly, some of the notes I made in regards to the story (including the paragraph below), Duncan mentioned in his ‘Word from the Author’ section at the end of the book. So, if you have read the book and think that part sounded familiar, it’s Duncan’s fault for taking the time at the end of his book to write about things that I wanted to discuss.
Firstly, the easiest way to describe the story is if you imagine Jurassic Park, but as an actual theme park with rides and stalls, and then instead of dinosaurs there are ghosts. Think about that for a minute. A theme park with actual ghosts as the exhibits. It’s such a simple premise that I’m surprised it hasn’t been done before.
Back to the park, as well as the various revenants and poltergeists on display, there’s something else special about Ghostland and that's the physical exhibits. All the haunted locales such as the Apache Theatre, Bright Falls Sanitorium or of course the infamous Garrote House, weren’t built for the park, but are the haunted locales themselves, carefully moved from their original locations to be placed in the park.
Those things reminded me a little of a couple of William Castle movie remakes, with the theme park from the start of 1999’s House on Haunted Hill, mixed in with the captured ghosts from 2001’s Thirteen Ghosts. Throw a little of the 2016 movie Abbatoir, with its premise of a haunted house made from crime scenes and then stir it together with the aforementioned Jurassic Park. Talking about William Castle, there was actually a reference to him in Ghostland only this time with character who used similar theatrics, such as Castle’s ‘Percepto’ gimmick for The Tingler, only in a lethal variant.
I’m also going to go out on a limb here and say that Duncan has thrown a South Park reference in there too, probably for his own amusement, as I’m pretty sure he’s a fan of the show and when one of the main characters says “ ‘member?” I instantly thought of member berries.
In fact, there are a lot of references in Ghostland. Videogame references to things like Bioshock and Silent Hill and there's a ghost named Behemoth that, based on its description, wouldn’t look out of place as a boss in The Evil Within.
There are references to other things too such as the Annabelle doll. These references work really well because what Duncan has done here is blend so-called, ‘real’ paranormal things that you may recognise, with fictional things that exist purely in his book…or do they?
This brings us nicely around to Garrote House. I mentioned it earlier as being ‘infamous’ and some of you might have wondered where this infamy originated, or some of you might think it sounds a little familiar. I’m not going to go into too much detail because there are so many things that you need to discover yourselves, but I will tell you that Rex Garrote was a successful horror author who purchased a large mansion, now known as Garrote House, but he reportedly set himself on fire at the peak of his career and burned to death.
Here’s a link to Duncan’s website, more specifically, the pages that deal with Rex Garrote, because Duncan has spent not only a lot of time on the actual Ghostland novel, but on the mythology that surrounds it too. I’m sure the fact that ‘Rex’ means ‘King’ wasn’t unintentional either.
There are so many clever and interesting things going on that I can’t help but enthuse about and I’ve realised that I haven’t actually explained the story yet, so, here’s the official blurb:
People are dying to get in. The ghosts will kill to get out.
Be first in line for the most haunted theme park in the park in the world - GHOSTLAND! Discover and explore hundreds of haunted buildings and cursed objects! Witness spectral beings of all kinds with our patented Augmented Reality glasses! Experience all the terror and thrills the afterlife has to offer, safely protected by our Recurrence Field technology! Visit Ghostland today - it's the hauntedest place on earth!
After a near-death experience caused by the park's star haunted attraction, Ben has come to Ghostland seeking to reconnect with his former best friend Lilian, whose post-traumatic stress won't let her live life to the fullest. She's come at the insistence of her therapist, Dr. Allison Wexler, who tags along out of professional curiosity, eager to study the new tech's psychological effect on the user.
But when a computer virus sets the ghosts free and the park goes into lockdown, the trio find themselves trapped in an endless nightmare.
With time running short and the dead quickly outnumbering the living, the survivors must tap into their knowledge of horror and video games to escape… or become Ghostland's newest exhibits.
Featuring an interactive "Know Your Ghosts" guide and much more, Ghostland is over 400 pages of thrills and terror!
There is so much about the book that I enjoyed that I could sing it’s praise ( and Duncan’s I suppose, as long as he doesn’t let it go to his head) for ages, so I’ll do my best to try and summarise things.
Firstly, in case you couldn’t tell already, I really recommend Ghostland. The story is extremely clever and as well as mixing in ‘real’ haunted things with fictional ones there is a skilful blending of technology that is in use today with fabricated, yet plausible, science that adds to the believability of the whole thing.
What’s more, the story doesn’t let up either.
It tears along at a rapid pace and even when the main characters do get the chance to stop and take a breather, they (and you as a reader) know that danger is still lurking nearby and any respite is only temporary.
There is a clever use of quotes from the 'works' of Rex Garotte and the interactive “know your ghosts” guide as footnotes are a real treat too. You can read them as you progress through the story, or wait until the end and they all add to the world that Ghostland inhabits.
And the world that it inhabits is one that I want to keep diving into.
There’s the prequel story, the Ghostland website, Duncan’s blogs about Rex Garotte and best of all, the promise of more to come.
Here's a link to the Ghostland park website that I highly recommend you visit too as it all adds to the experience.
Duncan has already stated that he will continue to visit the world of Ghostland because not only is there more to come once the final page is reached, there are other tales to be told from the survivors (and possibly the victims) of the incident too.
So maybe in the future, as well as new characters, we’ll be finding out more about what other characters were doing.
Whilst Ghostland followed the plight of Ben, Lilian and Alison maybe we’ll get to find out what was going on with characters such as Stan Beadle or the tubby bearded guy (sounds like a description of me – I’m calling dibs if this becomes a movie or TV show) with the No Fear T-shirt or Demont…the list goes on.
And of course, there is all the backstory that goes with the ghosts too.
There is so much scope here for more that I can’t help but feel excited by the prospect of immersing myself in the world again.
If I have just one fault with the story, it’s the ending. It’s just that it felt a little sudden and inconclusive in the way it gets to the finale and then jumps forward a few months. I had to check that I hadn’t somehow missed a chapter.
But once I’d finished the epilogue, I didn’t mind and even though I really do want to know what happened in more detail regarding those final moments, I don’t feel short-changed by the experience.
If you’ve made it this far, thanks for putting up with me for so long. I realise this was a much longer review than normal but there were so many things that I wanted to touch upon and so many more that I haven’t had the chance to.
Ghostland is available on kindle and paperback right now so if you like horror and/or ghost stories with a really good idea behind them then buy this book.
In fact, if you do want to buy it, here's a couple of links for you:
Oh yes, I nearly forgot. At the start of all this, I mentioned another piece of artwork besides the cover that I wanted to mention and that is a fantastic piece of work by Michael Tenebrae, because what journey to a theme park would be complete with a park map?
Because that's right, there's a park map too.
Now you too can visit Ghostland and never get lost and enjoy all that the park has to offer…as long as the ghosts don’t get you first of course.
Here's a link to Duncan's website:
And here's a link to his amazon author page: