I really hesitate before giving five stars to a book. The ones that are unquestionably five stars create a benchmark that isn’t easy to hit – Tolkien, and Austen, and Chesterton and Sayers and the complete works of Guy Gavriel Kay. I especially didn’t expect to ever give five stars to a book I can’t hold in my hands, which I downloaded by sheer chance from Smashwords.com. But one nice thing about Smashwords is that you can read a substantial sample before committing to buy a book, and I fell in love very quickly with Dead in Time by Anna Reith. Happily, the download was available as a pdf – not ideal, but accessible.
So, late one night Ellis is working on her thesis, when an album starts playing on her stereo which shouldn’t be playing on her stereo. It’s an old favorite of her mother’s by a band called Brother Rush, and not one she remembered putting in queue.
“Not bad for a man with a dodgy perm and lurex trousers,” I murmured, taking off my glasses to rub eyes bees-winged enough to be buzzing.
“Well, that’s charming,” he said. “Thank you very much.”
When she looks up she is more than startled to find her window seat occupied by the lead singer for Brother Rush, Damon Brent. Which would be, in itself, startling enough if he hadn’t been dead for thirty years.
And with that her life is changed.
It was on August 28, 1976 (I wonder if Anna Reith has the same sort of reason to hate that date as I do), as we see in flashback segments and hear from Damon himself, that he held one last huge party at his country house, awash with booze and drugs. The latter were blamed for the … accident that took his life; he was found naked in a pool of blood, tangled in the shower curtain; obviously, he slipped, bashed his head on the sink, tried to get up, and hit his head again, and lay bleeding to death alone as the party ebbed in the house below. But, he tells Ellis, he knows that’s not what happened.
It’s a straightforward idea – a ghost prodding the living to resolve the manner of his death. But this – this is unique, and beautiful, and so well written. The characters are wonderfully drawn – I don’t remember enjoying characterizations so much, not in a long time. The writing is filled with sharp observations and humor, a solid knowledge of music and a kind of alarming depth of knowledge of glam rock. I loved Damon Brent (even though I kept picturing Russell Brand for some reason, despite the fact that Day is blond); his band-mates and wife, and Ellis and her family and friends, were three-dimensional. It’s so frustrating to read this, so real that I should be able to go to iTunes and download Brother Rush. I want to.
In the meantime, what I can do is refer this book to everyone I can think of, and read everything Anna Reith has written. And I will.