Compelling mystery with a ghostly element on the Camino de Santiago trail
- Book: Petra’s Ghost
- Location: Northern Spain, Santiago de Compostela
- Author: C.S. O'Cinneide
Two things immediately attracted me to this book: 1) The setting – I have walked a part of the Camino de Santiago myself and was eager to revisit this wonderful place through a book; and 2) The part of the blurb that reads “The lines start to blur between reality and madness, between truth and the lies we tell ourselves.” I’m a bit of a sucker for books that straddle the thin line between reality and madness, and when it also involves some ghostly activity I am sold!
I’m happy to say that the book delivered on all its promises and more. It starts off innocently enough. Daniel, an Irish expat now living in the US is walking the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage trail in Northern Spain to find a place to spread the ashes of his wife Petra, who died of cancer the previous year. They had wanted to make this trip together, so he thinks it will be a fitting journey to honour Petra, reflect on their marriage and come to terms with his loss before he has to go back to Ireland to take over the family farm. On a lonely mountain pass, Daniel meets another pilgrim, a mysterious young woman called Ginny, who asks if she can walk part of the trail with him. A hiker has recently disappeared on the trail, and young single females have been warned of the dangers of walking alone, so the request is not unreasonable. It is common on the Camino to make acquaintances and join in with others for part of the journey, then lose sight of them only to meet up again later. So even though neither Daniel nor Ginny don’t seem particularly eager for company, they end up teaming up for some stretches of The Way.
At this point you may think that the story sounds very much like the famous movie THE WAY with Martin Sheen, but be assured that this is where the similarity ends. Because very soon after their first meeting, Daniel and Ginny have a horrific encounter with a frightful creature that lurks in a deserted cornfield in the dark. Daniel is sure they are being followed. But by whom? Person or ghost? Or the demons that haunt him after Petra’s death?
This was such a great read! Having walked some of the Camino, I could vividly picture the scenery and relate to the hardships of the long lonely hikes, but also the sometimes mystical atmosphere of this ancient countryside. Many of Daniel’s experiences (luckily not the scary ones) reflected my own feelings on the trail, and I thought how rare it is to find a book that so honestly describes the joys and woes of hiking, right down to the blisters and the reality of sharing a hostel room with fifty other smelly travellers. The author has totally nailed this setting, and even if you have never set foot on Spanish soil or hiked a mile in your life, you will soon be swept away on this great adventure.
I loved the way the novel soon turns dark and more sinister, and unexplained things start happening. With Daniel grieving and in a state of emotional unrest, I was never sure if the air of danger and menace was purely in his imagination, or if there was indeed something evil afoot. The ancient, spiritual path combined with this ever- present aura of evil made for some tense reading, and I could not tear myself away! There were parts of the book were I felt trapped in a nightmare, my own mind unravelling just like Daniel’s. It was all so brilliantly done. One minute there was the bright side of the journey, the sunshine, the beautiful landscape, the quiet reflection and the social aspect of connecting with other pilgrims. And then there was the dark side, the eerie sightings, the sense of danger and menace, the personal demons that come out in the dark and the quiet to torment the unaware traveller. Yes, the trail does have that effect, that soporific meditative monotony of walking that can clear the stage for all the suppressed emotions to bubble to the surface. I loved it, and it was obvious that the author had walked the walk in order to talk the talk.
PETRA’S GHOST is an original, authentic and heartfelt book that both tugged on my heartstrings and threw everything into disarray I had considered reality. It is dark and scary at times, and the mystery at the heart of it had me eagerly turning the pages. This is one book I could not put down! It’s not easy to find books that feature hiking as the backdrop to a mystery (combining two of my favourite things), especially where the author manages to paint so realistic a picture, so I am thrilled to have come across this one. Highly recommended to anyone who is looking for a compelling mystery with a ghostly element that will mess with your mind but also tug at your heartstrings. I loved it and hope to read more from this author in future.