Graham Joyce,
Requiem
(Tor, 1996)

Tom Webster, the protagonist of Graham Joyce's novel Requiem, is a haunted man. Nearly a year after the accidental death of his wife, Katie, Tom is haunted with guilt and sorrow and possibly, by Katie herself. He quits his job as a teacher at Dovelands and leaves England for Jerusalem, in search of his best college friend, Sharon, but he arrives while Sharon is away. He finds lodgings in a small obscure hotel, unwittingly setting off an irrevocable chain of events.

On a walk through the Old City, Tom encounters a mysterious old woman who seems to be trying to communicate something to him, but he can't understand her. He is uneasy, but dismisses the encounter, believing it to be random, but further encounters seem to prove that she is some kind of apparition -- although Tom begins to question his sanity. Then Sharon connects with him, finding him at a site where the old woman appears.

Tom moves out of the hotel to stay with Sharon, but he returns to visit David Feldberg, an elderly scholar living at the hotel whom he has befriended. David reveals to Tom that he is in possession of some fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls, and entrusts the fragments to Tom.

Sharon convinces Tom to take the fragments to Ahmed, an Arab scholar and friend. His translation shows the fragments to be written by none other than Mary Magdalene, revealing the remarkable truth behind the Crucifixion and Resurrection of Jesus.

But Ahmed sees something else: he can see the apparition haunting Tom, which he perceives as a djinn, or demon. That troubles him most of all, because Ahmed himself is haunted by a djinn which he struggles to ward off but cannot banish. He pleads with Tom to believe him, but Tom dismisses the notion, thinking that the visions he is having stem from guilt over Katie's death. Eventually, however, Tom begins to suspect that the old woman is Mary Magdalene herself -- although at times she speaks to him with Katie's voice.

Is Tom haunted by a djinn? Is he insane? Is he projecting his guilt about his perceived lack of love for his late wife into hallucinations? Or is he the instrument chosen to reveal an important truth?

Joyce spins his tale on multiple levels; it is at once a ghost story, a dark fantasy and a compelling psychological novel laced with eroticism. The writing is lucid and vivid, conveying passion on all levels, and readers are left to draw their own conclusions about what is happening to Tom and what is really going on around him.

Tom is a particularly appealing character, and as he sinks deeper into the mystery, the reader goes with him. Katie, the character who is at once "off stage" and at the heart of the action, is portrayed in quick, deft strokes which illuminate her character in a way that the outright descriptions of Sharon never can. Sharon is a somewhat less successful character; it is difficult to empathize with her. At the same time, however, the reader realizes that Sharon's inaccessibility is a hallmark of her character, and that realization adds a dimension to the character.

Joyce is a wonderful storyteller, and Requiem is a remarkable demonstration of his talent.

[ by Donna Scanlon ]



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