A Cambridge historian, Elizabeth Vogelsang, is found drowned, clutching a glass prism in her hand. The book she was writing about Isaac Newton's involvement with alchemy-the culmination of her lifelong obsession with the seventeenth century-remains unfinished. When her son, Cameron, asks his former lover, Lydia Brooke, to ghostwrite the missing final chapters of his mother's book, Lydia agrees and moves into Elizabeth's house-a studio in an orchard where the light moves restlessly across the walls. Soon Lydia discovers that the shadow of violence that has fallen across present-day Cambridge, which escalates to a series of murders, may have its origins in the troubling evidence that Elizabeth's research has unearthed. As Lydia becomes ensnared in a dangerous conspiracy that reawakens ghosts of the past, the seventeenth century slowly seeps into the twenty-first, with the city of Cambridge the bridge between them.
Filled with evocative descriptions of Cambridge, past and present, Ghostwalk centers around a real historical mystery that Rebecca Stott has uncovered involving Newton's alchemy. In it, time and relationships are entangled-the present with the seventeenth century, and figures from the past with the love-torn twenty-first-century woman who is trying to discover their secrets.
A stunningly original display of scholarship and imagination, and a gripping story of desire and obsession, Ghostwalk is a rare debut that will change the way most of us think about scientific innovation, the force of history, and time itself.
From the Hardcover edition.
British historian Stott makes a stunning debut with this hypnotic and intelligent thriller, the first fiction release of a new Random House imprint. The mysterious drowning death of Elizabeth Vogelsang, a Cambridge University scholar who was almost finished writing a controversial biography of Isaac Newton, leads her son, Cameron Brown, to recruit Lydia Brooke, his former lover, to complete the book. That request plunges Brooke into probing two ostensibly separate series of murders: one in the 17th century claimed the lives of several who stood between Newton and the fellowship he needed to continue his studies at Cambridge; the other in the present day appears to target those who have offended a radical animal rights group. Brooke's work may be haunted by a ghost from Newton's time who guides her to a radical reinterpretation of the role of alchemy and the supernatural in Newton's life. Much more than a clever whodunit, this taut, atmospheric novel with its twisty interconnections between past and present will leave readers hoping Stott has many more stories in her future. (May)
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Spiegel & Grau
May 08, 2007
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Excerpt from Ghostwalk by Rebecca Stott
Over the last two years, as I have tried to tease out the truths from the untruths in that series of events that seeped out through Elizabeth's death, like lava moving upwards and outwards through salt water from a tear in the seabed, I have had to be you several times, Cameron Brown, in order to claw myself towards some kind of coherence. Sometimes it was--is--easy to imagine the world through your eyes, terribly possible to imagine walking through the garden that afternoon in those moments before you found your mother's body in the river. After all, for a long time, all that time we were lovers, it was difficult to tell where your skin ended and mine began. That was part of the trouble for Lydia Brooke and Cameron Brown. Lack of distance became--imperceptibly--a violent entanglement.
So this is for you, Cameron, and yes, it is also for me, Lydia Brooke, because perhaps, in putting all these pieces together properly, I will be able to step out from your skin and back into mine.
Alongside Elizabeth's body floating in red in the river, there are other places where this story needs to start, places I can see now but wouldn't have seen then, other beginnings which were all connected. Another death, one that took place around midnight on the 5th of January, 1665. That night, Richard Greswold, a fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge, had opened a door onto a dark, unlit landing above a staircase in Trinity. A draught caught the flame from the lamp in his hand, twisting and elongating the shadows around him. As a thin stream of blood began to trickle from one, then both of his nostrils, he raised the back of his hand and wiped it across his cheek, smearing the blood into streaks, and fell forward, very slowly, into air, through the palest of moon shadows cast through casement windows. He fell heavily, his body twisting and beating against the steps and walls. The lamp fell too and bounced, making a metallic counterpoint to the thuds of flesh on wood. By morning the blood from the wound on Richard Greswold's head had run through and across the uneven cracks of the stone flagging on which he died, making a brown map like the waterways across the Fens to the north, the college porter said, prying a key--the key to the garden--from the dead man's clenched fist. Encrusted blood, as thick as fen mud.
Greswold's death was bound up with Elizabeth's. She came to know that before she died, but we didn't. Two Cambridge deaths, separated by three centuries, but inseparable, shadowing each other. Richard Greswold. Elizabeth Vogelsang.
Elizabeth Vogelsang drowned in September, 2002, the first of three deaths that would become the subject of a police investigation four months later. The police took a ragged testimony from me, which I gave in answer to the questions they asked and which were recorded on tape in a windowless room in the basement of the Parkside Police Station by a Detective Sergeant Cuff on the 16th of January, 2003.
"All the interview rooms are occupied this morning, Dr. Brooke," he said, struggling to find the right key as I followed him down grey corridors. "So we'll have to use the central investigation room. I'm afraid it's not ideal, but it is at least empty this morning. There's a staff training morning--health and safety. We have about an hour. This is not a formal interview, you understand. We'll do that later. Just a chat."
"I don't know whether what I have to tell you will take an hour," I said. My nerves were jangled. I wasn't sleeping. I was still waking in the middle of the night angry with you, and with me, but I had enough self-possession to know that I would have to be careful and alert here at the Parkside Police Station. Very alert. They had arrested Lily Ridler.
"We will have to see you again, Dr. Brooke, without doubt. You will be central to our enquiries."