Joanna Morrison’s debut The Ghost of Gracie Flynn is a double crime novel. It opens with a death and explores the lead up to that crime. But it is narrated by the victim of a much earlier crime. An event that literally haunts the main characters of this book, former friends who went their separate ways after a tragedy that they could not get over.
The narrative voice of this book takes a little getting used to. As the title tips off, the book is narrated by the ghost of Grace Flynn, killed eighteen years before the main action of the novel. That narration is in second person – spoken to the infant daughter of one of main characters. It is unclear why Morrison chose to take this approach (I guess she thought Grace should be talking to someone, or maybe ghosts can only talk to those who can’t process what they are being told?) but it is ultimately an odd decision.
The book opens with the death of Sam Favier on board his boat in suburban Perth. The narrative then drops back to a few months before when Sam reconnects with his old friend Cohen. Not long after that another old friend Robyn, a burnt out foreign reporter who has come home, also enters the picture. The three were part of a close foursome when they were at university. Grace and Robyn were flatmates, and the four formed two couples – Sam and Robyn were one and Cohen and Grace were the other – an arrangement threatened by Sam’s wanderlust and Sam and Cohen’s ultra-competitive past. Back in the near past, Sam finds himself threatened by his wife’s continuing text relationship with an ex and uses that as a pretext to throw himself into a clandestine relationship with Skye, a local musician. Meanwhile Cohen is trying to work out how to get out of a financial hole he has dug for himself in supporting his and his wife’s lavish lifestyle.
There is plenty going on both in the recent and distant past in The Ghost of Gracie Flynn but none of it is particularly resonant. The problem is not that most of the characters are morally suspect (they are) but that they not all that interesting , so it is hard to care about their troubles or be concerned about their misdemeanours. The book builds up to some reasonably effective reveals about both murders, but readers who do not expect these twists have not been paying attention to the clues that Morrison has planted along the way.