Rebecca Stott
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Buy *Ghostwalk* by Rebecca Stott online

Rebecca Stott
Spiegel & Grau
368 pages
June 2008
rated 4 of 5 possible stars

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Ghostwalk is an imaginative blending of Isaac Newton’s theories and the mysteries of the 17th century in a modern-day Cambridge environment, where scholarship is hindered by the threat of terrorism and innocents are vulnerable to the agendas of the powerful.

Lydia Brooke returns to the embrace of a former lover, Doctor of Neuroscience and Cambridge Fellow Cameron Brown, when his mother, Elizabeth Vogelsang, dies before she can finish her book on Newton and his ties to alchemy. Enraptured by her quest into Newton’s history, Elizabeth has lived in a Cambridge cottage, the Studio, years of research challenging current thinking about Newton’s ties to alchemy, a potential shock to the academic community.

When Cameron discovers his mother’s lifeless body, he implores Lydia to reside for a time at the cottage and ghostwrite the ending of the book. Unable to resist an opportunity to be near Cameron and access to Elizabeth’s impressive scholarship, Lydia throws herself into the project, little realizing that her association with Brown will ultimately put her in grave danger.

Immersed in Elizabeth’s papers, Lydia learns of Newton’s experiments in 17th-century Cambridge, soon after the devastation of the plague and the Great Fire of London in 1666, his scientific interest married to alchemy: earth, water, fire, space and air transmutable to create all forms of matter. Both science and alchemy are dependent on information from “European secret societies, Freemasons and alchemists, groups of men in the Hague and in London, Cambridge and Paris.”

No small matter, the secrets of the universe are at stake, the essence of life reduced to one invaluable formula. Science and alchemy are natural bedfellows, certain groups charged with the safe-keeping of such powerful knowledge. Then there is the added mystery of five deaths in Cambridge, all at Trinity College, perhaps a link between the deaths and Newton’s activities.

Lydia’s carefully constructed corner of academia is threatened by real world issues, her lover having recently made a breakthrough discovery with sinister ramifications if in the wrong hands. Lydia begins to doubt Cameron, urged on in her suspicion by a questionable character who has shown up at the Studio. The centuries merge, three deaths in Cambridge begging for comparison with those in Trinity long ago.

As the relationship becomes a sort of haunting, Lydia wanders through Elizabeth’s alchemic world, seduced by the unfinished chapters. In real time, a series of attacks by so-called animal rights activists have threatened the academic community, including Cameron, his family and Lydia. The denouement, while inevitable, is tragic.

The couple’s love imbues the novel with otherworldliness, Newton’s dark secrets tempered with the seduction of romance and incipient violence as the author skillfully renders this strange mixture of past and present unspeakably believable.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Luan Gaines, 2007

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