The Ghost And The Machine by Benny Lawrence is a complex, wonderfully told story of being held captive. It is filled with unexpected twists and a deep understanding of the psychology of being a hostage.
The story is set in 1838 when Europe is obsessed with mechanical contraptions. A chess playing machine names the Rajah moves around Europe playing chess matches against people.
The main character is a girl named Kit. She works for Rush, a woman who owns the chess playing machine.
Kit has toured with the Rajah since she was ten and knows all the secrets behind the machine. For the most part life has a pattern to it and it’s relatively unpredictable. Little does she know that everything is about to change when an eccentric Countess summons them to her manor house in Vienna.
Enter Eleanor who is curious about the machine and the skittish girl who would rather hide in their rooms than take a stroll in the gardens or be outside at all.
As the layers get peeled back you slowly begin to realise that nothing you thought was true is and that everything is just an illusion.
Benny Lawrence has created a layered novel about captivity and how humans will adapt to almost anything. It is a captivating (pun intended) and superb, intricate and original story.
On a side note: the idea of the chess playing machine so intrigued me that I looked it up and it was a real thing. But don’t check Wikipedia before you have read the book or else it may spoil the surprise.
Sheena: The characters are well written, very individual and easy to tell apart. What Lawrence does well is create memorable, interesting characters to match the unique stories that she tells.
Heather: The essence of this book is the character studies. I was deeply impressed by how Lawrence was able to portray their experiences in a recognizable way without falling back on modern medical terminology. This is not a book where you even ask if they characters are “likeable”. The point is that they’re real.
The Writing Style
Sheena: Well paced, left me turning the virtual pages (of my kindle) well into the night. A fascinating idea and a well executed story.
She made me feel many many things on this journey into a young woman’s life.
Heather: The first-person narration from a decidedly unreliable character was perfect for this type of story. The non-linear exposition enabled the story to hook me and promise me a satisfying resolution while doling out the back story at just the right points. The structure reflected the broken and scattered psyche of the protagonist in a way that a more distanced narrator never could.
Sheena: Good read. Unique. Well written.
Heather: Lawrence’s writing is amazing in its technical mastery. Her portrayal of the protagonist’s voice and of the psychological experiences of the various characters gripped me from the very start.
Sheena: Not a con for me but it’s not a romance, so don’t read it if you want one.
Heather: All the content advisories: psychological, physical, and sexual abuse, alcoholism, agoraphobia, dissociation, and in case it needs mentioning, this is not a romance novel. The sexual abuse is not presented graphically on the page but everything else is. None of it is gratuitous, in the sense of being unnecessary for the plot, but it is definitely intense.
Sheena: This is the second book by Benny Lawrence that I have read. After Shell Game I expected a similar story in terms of pacing, romance and quirky characters however this book is its own creature and nothing like Shell Game.
But this novel is so worth it. It is dark and moody, each page you turn is like unwrapping another piece of the mystery.
Heather: This is a book that deserves wider recognition. The unfortunate truth is that the people who are most likely to stumble across it are unlikely to be looking for this type of story. I was looking for an ordinary historic adventure and even though that wasn’t what I got, I’m so glad for what I found.
Excerpt from The Ghost And The Machine by Benny Lawrence
(Please note: I edited this down a little)
People sometimes ask me what it’s like to travel inside a box.
I don’t like to answer with sweeping statements, because I think it depends on the box. Mine was quite nice, as boxes go.
Don’t ask me about measurements. I didn’t have a ruler up my sleeve. But it was long enough for me to lie at full length and high enough to let me turn over. It was lined with red cloth, like a jewellery case, and there were slits carved in the lid for air holes. On cold days, I was allowed to have a blanket in there.
The box was strapped to the back of the coach, and that was how we travelled. I was packed away with the rest of the luggage, hidden from any curious eyes. Von Hausen was in the coachman’s seat, her face a thundercloud as she whipped along the four black horses. (We went through a lot of black horses over the years, and they never did have names.)
The inside of the coach was reserved for the brains of our little operation, our guiding light and lord protector. That was Diana Rushmore – Rush, we called her. In wintertime, she spent each journey wrapped in furs, with her feet propped up on hot bricks, nursing a flask of the best brandy. In summer, it was lemonade laced with gin.
I didn’t spend all my time in a box. I wouldn’t want to give you that impression. When we were into a long leg of a journey-say, if we were driving overland from Brussels to Cologne –we’d rearrange things once we were on a deserted stretch of road, out of sight of any town. The coach would rumble to a halt. Then the carriage-frame would shudder, which meant Von Hausen was swinging down from her seat. I’d hear her heavy tramp as she stomped around the carriage to the luggage rack, around the side of the coach, and in through the open door.
When I slid onto the bench next to Rush, her hand would come over to rest heavily on my knee. At intervals, while the carriage rattled along, she would give me a please, possessive little squeeze.
There were thick wooden shutters nailed across the windows of the coach. Rush kept it dark in there, dark as the bottom of a boot, and that was for my sake.
All of those elaborate precautions were for my sake – the shutters, the box, the cloak. That was the manner of things that I was: a creature designed to live in dark and secret spaces.
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Publisher: Bedazzled Ink Publishing Company
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