In her award-winning novel, Mostert blends alchemy, the art of memory, high magic, and murder to create a highly original psychological thriller.
Gabriel Blackstone is a cool, hip, thoroughly twenty-first century Londoner with an unusual talent. A computer hacker by trade, he is also a remote viewer: able to ‘slam a ride’ through the minds of others.
But he uses his gift only reluctantly ― until he is contacted by an ex-lover who begs him to find her step-son, last seen months earlier in the company of two sisters.
And so Gabriel visits Monk House, a place where time seems to stand still, and where the rooms are dominated by the coded symbol of a cross and circle.
As winter closes in, Gabriel becomes increasingly bewitched by the house, and by its owners, the beautiful and mysterious Monk sisters. But even as he falls in love, he knows that one of them is a killer.
Days after finishing this book, I’m hard-pressed to pin down a genre or an adjective to describe it. It combines the modern and high tech with magic, culminating in something completely unexpected by the time I finished the last page.
Gabriel is a thief – of data. If you need corporate secrets stolen, he’s the man you would go to. It’s made clear that he’s left his past behind and has no wish to revisit it, until it comes knocking on his door – literally.
The very successful and very rich William Whittington comes to him looking for help to try and find his son, Robbie. He’s come to Gabriel because his wife Cecily recommended him as the most talented remote viewer she knows. And she should know – Cecily, or rather Frankie, was in a relationship with Gabriel while they worked at Eyestorm refining their remote viewing talents. She was never as talented as Gabriel though.
In the book, remote viewing is the ability to enter other people’s minds and scan their thoughts – Frankie wants him to find Robbie this way because he’s done it before at Eyestorm. As the case progresses, Gabriel discovers, or rather rediscovers, that remote viewing is as dangerous as it is a handy tool to have on an investigation.
Naturally, he does come with a secret in his past, something that made him stop using his remote viewing powers – I think you can probably guess that it was horrible, and he’s carried it with him for years after, to the point that he hasn’t ever used his powers again. But, Mostert doesn’t shy away from the fact that his ego got him into trouble, and not much has changed. I consider that a strength of this book, weirdly enough – Gabriel isn’t entirely likeable and he sometimes does not learn from the consequence of his actions.
Gabriel – very reluctantly – takes on the case, and is introduced to the Monk sisters: Morrighan and Minnaloushe. I still can’t actually pronounce those names! Robbie was quite taken with them, and soon enough Gabriel is the same. Fittingly, it is through the writing on an electronic diary, the currency in which he deals and is most comfortable with, that he falls in love with one of the sisters, though he doesn’t know which one. The sisters are alchemists and involved in magic and memory, and none of this really comes to a head until the end.
Mostert is a sensual writer, never more so than when the Monk sisters are taking centre stage. It’s easy to see why Gabriel is becoming besotted by them, to the point that Frankie and Isidore, his partner in crime, stage an intervention of sorts. They are very much the same in many important ways, enough so that Gabriel can’t actually figure out who the writer of the diary is.
Gabriel is a bit of an arse to be honest. He’s full of himself and his talents as a thief, which is strange considering that sort of over-confidence caused him trouble during his Eyestorm days. Gabriel is the sort of character, I think, who has to be the best at everything and if he isn’t, he’d rather just move on and leave things behind, even if it means not using his remote viewing talent for days.
He seems suited to either sister, for they are much the same on the surface. Through the manuscript, we’re given short POVs into what they’re thinking and it doesn’t matter whose thoughts they are (we’re never told) because it could fit either sister. That confusion is skilfully maintained through the book to a satisfying conclusion about the difference between the sisters that ties into Gabriel’s feelings.
He also still has feelings for Frankie, despite her marriage and her husband’s terminal health. Frankie is in stark contrast to the Monk sisters and the magic they use; Frankie is real. Perhaps because she is dealing with realities that are in stark contrast to the magic and the alchemy of the rest of the book – the impending loss of her husband, who she loves so much. That lingers in the background of the book, always managing to remind Gabriel of what’s real. I liked that her love for her husband was steadfast, even as Mostert was writing her as Gabriel’s love interest as well — she knows Gabriel, she knows what he’s capable of and his innermost fears, but none of that changes how much she adores her husband and wants desperately to give him some peace regarding his son.
I never quite bought into the “love” Gabriel feels for the writer of the electronic diary, it was perhaps more infatuation than anything. The sisters were too mythical and magical to be real in some ways.
The resolution of the story and Robbie’s death is explained far better in the book than I can even attempt to go into here, but what I did not expect was a tie-in to BBC Sherlock’s mind palaces. You’re going to have to read it to see what I mean!