Review: Petra's Ghost - C.S. O'Cinneide
Genre: Mystery, Thriller, Fiction, Travel Journal
Published: Dundurn Group, August 2019
My Rating: 4/5 stars
“We all have our ghosts, Daniel” Rob says (…) “The question is not if they exist, it is what message do they bring.”
This beautifully haunting debut by author C.S. O’Cinneide had me immediately intrigued with its premise, yet still surprised me with how deeply I ended up enjoying it as a whole. I was lucky enough to receive an early copy via the publisher, in exchange for an honest review. Let me tell you: it’s one of the best ARCs I’ve read this year.
We follow Daniel as he walks the Camino, the famous pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostella, carrying the ashes of his recently deceased wife Petra, in order to scatter them at his final destination. Along the way, he meets Ginny, a bubbly Californian girl making the same solo journey, and the two of them decide to continue together. Both find themselves haunted by the (perhaps literal) ghosts of their pasts along the way, and we slowly find out that both of them carry more than just the weight of their backpacks on their shoulders on this journey…
Petra’s Ghost reads like a travel journal, it reads like a psychological mystery thriller and like a gothic novel all at once. At times it reminded me of The Salt Path by Raynor Winn (which I loved), mixed with Melmoth by Sarah Perry and something else, that I can’t quite place. It was the Pilgrimage to a loved ones final resting place that originally drew me in, as I feel like I can relate to it, albeit on a smaller scale than the 800 km Camino. I believe the author herself has walked the Camino before, and she does a great job of conveying the atmosphere and “personality” of the trail. The same can be said for the effect that the protagonists mood has on his experience of the trial. Grief can put a weird, almost surrealist and dark filter over things, which was portrayed wonderfully with the hint of horror/thriller elements along the way. Speaking of which: it was the mystery that kept drawing me back to the book as soon as I put it down. Often with stories like this, I feel like either the mystery or the protagonists emotional background is tucked in as an afterthought. In Petra’s Ghost, the two entwine perfectly with each other, as well as with the previously established atmosphere. Lastly, it was the ending that delivered the final emotional punch to make this book memorable to me. It was brave without being sensational, and emotional without being dramatic. Very fitting ending to this story in my opinion.
I do have one piece of criticism, probably aimed at the publisher, more so than the author. There is a line in the synopsis of the final copy of the book (that wasn’t in the description of the ARC), which gives a major clue to one of the final reveals. To me, this actually made it very predictable, and spoiled the potential of surprise in the end. If that line hadn’t been in the synopsis, it would have taken me longer to figure it out. If you have the chance to read this book without reading the full synopsis in detail, that might be something I’d recommend doing.
All in all, there were a few things that kept this from being a full five star to me: mainly a few inconsistencies in pacing, and some of the mystery elements being a little predictable. That being said, this is one of the stronger 2019 debuts I’ve read so far, and I feel it’s both a book and an author to keep an eye on.
Find this book on Goodreads Many thanks to Dundurn Group for providing me with an early review copy.