The Festival of Hungry Ghosts

Book Review

The Festival of Hungry Ghosts by Stephen Frame

Champagne Book Group, kindle, £3.25

Reviewed by Sarah Deeming

The Big Bad Wolf (BB to his friends) left Fairyland to set up a PI business in LA. With the occasional bounty from the elves in Fairyland to return escapees, BB skirts the edges of the honest and criminal parts of the city. But BB has no choice but to dive into the criminal side when his honest, hard-working friends are threatened for protection money. For his trouble, he gets a female gangster he doesn’t trust as a partner and an introduction to Chinese mythology, who are as real as he is. Being the Big Bad Wolf may not be enough for this job.

Set in the years after the Depression in America, BB lives in the rougher part of LA in a melting pot of immigration where cultures and beliefs from all over the world rub against each other, including honest people wanting to earn a living and criminals preying on them. The world-building is good, taking you straight to the heart of the street and using all your senses to create a 3-dimensional world on the page.

The story is told exclusively from BB’s point of view in the first person, and he has a distinctive detective-noir style speech that keeps with the setting and genre. This voice is energetic and snarky, which successfully stays consistent throughout the book which moves along at a fair pace with short chapters. This combination of voice, pace and chapter size encourages you to keep turning the page. The Festival of Hungry Ghosts should have ‘just one more chapter’ as a tagline.

I feel like an awful lot of research went into this story to create an authentic feel for the characters and the world, and it paid off. All the detective noir characteristics you would expect are all present, and the inclusion of Chinese mythology is done respectfully. The reader doesn’t learn about the mythology from BB but from his sort of mentor, Mr Feng. The reason this works for me is it isn’t BB telling us; we are learning as he is being told.

The Festival of Hungry Ghosts is a great story as a stand-alone novella, but I feel, I hope, that it is the beginning of a series because there is a lot hinted at that wasn’t covered, like BB’s deal with the elves in Fairyland. As you would expect, there are lots of twists and turns and betrayals throughout, another reason that I couldn’t put the book down. What starts out as a simple plan to get some gangsters to stop shaking down his friends for protection money takes BB and the reader to unexpected places. Highly recommended.

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