Book Review: Ghost Story by Peter Straub

19581Title: Ghost Story

Author: Peter Straub

Genre: Horror, Supernatural Horror

Age Group: Adult

Rating: 5 stars

Purchase: Amazon, B&N

In life, not every sin goes unpunished.
For four aging men in the terror-stricken town of Milburn, New York, an act inadvertently carried out in their youth has come back to haunt them. Now they are about to learn what happens to those who believe they can bury the past — and get away with murder.
Peter Straub’s classic bestseller is a work of “superb horror” (The Washington Post Book World) that, like any good ghost story, stands the test of time — and conjures our darkest fears and nightmares.

Ghost Story is an extraordinary story, told from the perspectives of four aging men, with a writing style I can only admire, and a plot that left me wanting more. It’s a large novel, but it didn’t read like one. By the end, I wanted more, whereas by most books this size, I’m kind of glad it’s over. The four old men hold regular meetings where they tell each other ghost stories. Sometimes they’re not sure if what they’re saying is a product of their own imagination, or driven by some darker force. A secret from the past binds them together, but they’re all too afraid to talk about it. They mourn the one year anniversary of their best friend’s dead by holding yet another ghost story soirée. Except this time, evil is already among them.

The protagonists remain passive. When evil descends upon their town, nobody takes up the arms to fight it. At first, this annoyed me, but upon thinking about it – how many men would truly dare to fight the evil they created? Much like Dr. Frankenstein in Mary Shelley’s novel, they are afraid of their own creation, an evil of their own doing, shrouded in the clouds of the past. This secret, which we know is there from the start, but which is only explained toward the end, had me so curious I almost flipped through to read what it was. Past and present masterfully collide in this novel that talks more about the sins of men than about incromprehensible evil.

The pacing is spot on. It’s slow at first, gradually growing faster as the book progresses, which is the ideal pacing scheme for a ghost story. Slow and haunting, then fast like a rollercoaster. The book is complex, rich in detail, and has so many layers it’s difficult to tell where one story begins and the other ends. It’s an intelligent book and it pays hommage to the old masters of the genre, not only by the writing style – it kind of reads like Dracula, with the switching POVs and the many details – but also because of the subject matter. It’s the kind of book Poe and Lovecraft would probably enjoy.

The evil we meet here is everywhere. Nobody in town is safe. The atmosphere is drenched in darkness and despair, sipping through every page. It’s truly a sublime, powerful, horrifying read, and I’d recommend it to anyone who enjoys a good ghost story.


  1. Their are five (5) men that make up the Chowder Society, in the Peter Straub novel. The 1981 film adaptation leaves out the fifth man; Lewis Benedikt. This is a common mistake when reviewing the novel.


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