Review: Lucky Ghost by Matthew Blakstad @mattblak @1stMondayCrime @HodderBooks

Okay so this review is either going to be very long or very short. Neither in a bad way, at least not from a book enjoyment point of view anyway. More from a totally absorbing and entertaining cyber-geekery perspective which means that I’m in way over my head here if I have a hope of sounding intelligent or articulate.

Some might argue situation normal then …

Let’s take a look at a the bookish stuff first huh?FGWhat the blurb says:

The extraordinary new novel from the incredible author of SOCKPUPPET. Perfect for fans of BLACK MIRROR.

Early one morning, blogger Alex Kubelick walks up to a total stranger and slaps him across the face. Hard.

He smiles.

They’ve both just earned Emoticoin, in a new, all-consuming game that trades real-life emotions for digital currency. Emoticoin is changing the face of the economy – but someone or something is controlling it for their own, dangerous ends.

As Alex picks apart the tangled threads that hold the virtual game together she finds herself on the run from very real enemies. It seems only one person has the answers she seeks. Someone who hides behind the name ‘Lucky Ghost’.

But Lucky Ghost will only talk to a young hacker called Thimblerig – the online troll who’s been harassing Alex for months.

Will Lucky Ghost lead Alex and Thimblerig to the answers they seek – or to their deaths?

LUCKY GHOST is part of the Martingale cycle, a series of interconnected novels exploring the life of computing pioneer and political radical Elyse Martingale – and her strange afterlife in the 21st century.

Man, oh man, oh man. How do I even begin? Well – first of all you should note that this is book two in the series. Now me being me, I like to do things arse about face and so I have read this without reading the first. Because I haven’t read the first book, I’m not sure how much it would or wouldn’t have helped me with this one but to be fair, once I have got my head around the language, the characters, the concept of the pig masks and the superheroes, cartoon characters and myriad of other oddities which make this book so unique, I  really rather enjoyed it.

Can it be read as a stand alone? I would say yes. Absolutely. Technically I was listening to the audio rather than reading but it still counts 😉 This is a story in its own right and it is one which probably taught me more about economics and what-not than I have ever known before. Couple the socio-political instruction, very cleverly interwoven into the story, with a gripping read, tense action and moments where the protagonists are placed in complete jeopardy and what you have is a mighty impressive, if not mind blowing story.

Set in a future where society is divided into those who lead a sort of virtual reality led existence, ‘the strange’, and those who don’t staying entirely in ‘the real’, this is kind of dystopian-esque thriller which examines a world where the economy, or at least currency as we know it, has imploded and virtual currency, or emoticoins, are of high and indisputable value. As to who wins and who loses in this society, well that is yet to be determined. And yet in spite of the lack of physical pounds, shillings and pence, corruption and abuse of power is still rife. This story itself is a look at whether or not the corruption is still of the same meaning if no money can actually change hands. After all they say money is power but does the same apply if the only true currency is the principal of trade or exchange?

And that’s about as deep as I am going to get here or I will confuse myself never mind you, my solitary reader. I will say that this is a book you probably need to concentrate on, if only to keep a track of characters, who is and isn’t operating in real life or in virtual reality and who, in the grand truth of it all, is actually the enemy. In a world of true cyber-geekdom, handles are as important as real names and it is possible for both good and bad to hide behind an assumed identity. For example that of the eponymous ‘Lucky Ghost’ or Elyse Martingale, an undisclosed identity who is steering one of the main players, Thimblerig, a talented hacker with a clear agenda, to try to prevent a ‘domino hack’. Beside Thimblerig you have Alex Kubelick, a former vlogger who has her own reasons for searching for the truth behind a potential political corruption story.

While the first half of the book is a gradual build, a setting of the scene to ensure that readers and listeners are fully on board with what is happening, the second half takes a decidedly dark turn. Murder is high on the agenda, not always committed by those with a dark heart or bad intent, and the tension ratchets up the nearer to the conclusion we journey. There are times when all of the key characters are at risk, where the stakes are raised and the possible consequences of taking on the rich and powerful could be catastrophic. The violence is never gratuitous in execution, at least not on the page, but always starkly and vividly clear in the readers mind. It is a near perfect balance in fact.

If you are someone who is a little afraid of techno-babble then this may not be the book for you as it certainly moves way beyond the mere understanding of how to turn on your smart phone. That said, everything is explained so clearly that you don’t need a PHD in computer science to understand it. And, regardless of your level of tech-savvy, this should be something which makes you stop and think, perhaps even worry just a little. With the rise of social media, the fact that you can get your own personal virtual reality glasses to play at Star Wars from your local branch of Curry’s, and the advent and subsequent rise of Bit-Coin, just how far from fruition or reality is the whole scenario portrayed in this novel? I once spent a few weeks studying the concept of block-chain, the possibility that society and business could exist, trade and manage outside of the constraints of the common place currency that we know and love today. (Made my brain ache.) After all, it is only a few years ago that the act of paying for your coffee via an app on your smart phone would have been unthinkable, and yet I was stood behind one such geek consumer the other day.

Perhaps this story is not so divorced from actual reality after all.

From an audio book perspective, I can highly recommend this version. It had me engrossed from start to finish, with engaging characters, although not always likeable ones, and an intriguing plot that even an old luddite like me could understand. Pacy, fresh, tense and just plain fun, this book is one I heartily recommend. Just … don’t forget to also read Sockpuppet too. I mean it would be rude not to, right, and who wants to be rude?

You can purchase your own copy of Lucky Ghost from the following retailers (and if you follow the links below that you’ll find Sock Puppet there too).

Lucky Ghost: Amazon UK | Amazon US | Kobo | Waterstones

Sockpuppet: Amazon UK | Amazon US | Kobo | Waterstones

If you have a free evening on Monday, 5th March, and you are in the area of London, you can grab a free ticket to First Monday Crime right here and see Mr Blakstad in conversation with Sarah Vaughan, Stav Sherez and Elly Griffiths alongisde moderator Jake Kerridge. First Monday Crime is a monthly gathering for authors, publicists, agents, editors, students, and avid readers of crime fiction. Each month a new panel of authors is lined up to discuss writing, the world of crime, and their latest novels.

About the Author

MB.jpgMatthew writes pacy, character-driven fiction that explores the impact of technology on how we live and who we are. His first published story, Fallen Angel, a 100-page micro-thriller, came out in May 2016, followed by Sockpuppet, his first full-length novel. His second novel, Lucky Ghost, came out in July 2017. All three books are part of the Martingale Cycle, a series of standalone stories gravitating around a fictional computing pioneer and political radical called Elyse Martingale.

Matthew’s first career was as a professional child actor. From the age of ten, he had roles in TV dramas on the BBC and ITV, in films and at theatres including London’s Royal Court. After graduating from Oxford with a degree in Mathematics and Philosophy, he began a career in online communications. He now works in the public sector, helping people understand and manage money.

Follow Matthew on Twitter

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