Ghosts in the Machine – Haunters by Thomas Taylor

You may never have heard of Thomas Taylor but you have certainly seen his work. As an artist he created the original covers for that moderately successful series Harry Potter.  Now, artist has become author, and the results deserve a wide audience too.  The concept for Haunters is elegant and simple.  There exists among us ‘Dreamwalkers’, who, when asleep, can travel through space and time.

David has a recurring dream that takes place in 1940 (David lives in modern Britain), where he meets Eddie, a child living in war-torn London.  One day, sinister forces try to abduct David from school.  He escapes thanks to the help of another cabal, the secret but benevolent Dreamwalkers.  David learns he has a rare ability; when he dreams he travels to the places he is dreaming about.  Dreamwalkers can’t interact physically with their surroundings, but their presence can alter history, so they try to ensure they leave no trace of themselves.  They appear in their new locations as spectres, giving an elegant explanation for ghost sightings throughout the ages.

The Dreamwalkers operate out of a Hi-Tech subterranean base somewhere in the Swiss alps. Only children can travel through dreams, giving Dreamwalker HQ the feel of Hogwarts run by a Bond villain.  The point of all this? To prevent history being mutilated by villains of the piece, the ‘Haunters’.  Haunters use their time-travelling abilities and ghost-like presence for their own personal gain.  Sometimes this is disrupting important historical events, others it’s as simple as putting lots of money on the 4.30 at Kempton.

Now, Adam, the finest Dreamwalker of his generation, has gone rogue, teaming up with the Haunters.  His goal? To kill Eddie.  David discovers there are many reasons for keeping Eddie alive, not least of which, the friendship they have struck up.  What ensues is a madcap, boys-own adventure across time and space.

Taylor’s novel very much reminded me of Mike Wilks ‘Mirrorscape’ series (a marvellous and criminally overlooked set of books).  Both men are artist turned author; both have a brilliant eye for detail.  The settings in Haunters are evocative and memorable. The story too is strong.  The right blend of action and plot, some great villainy and touching heroics. The story is self-contained yet open. With a time-travel device at the heart of the book, there is plenty of scope for sequels.  Sequels that this reader would find most welcome.

The book is not perfect.  The plot is very black and white.  There are some twists, but nothing mind-blowing, and the main ‘reveal’ is heavily foreshadowed.  The potential paradoxes of time travel go mostly ignored.  If you think too much about the plot, you soon raise some unanswerable questions.   Considering the target age of the book, this probably isn’t a big issue; it may even be a plus, provoking lines of reasoning in young readers.  Elementary physics also says that if the ghosts have no physical presence, they shouldn’t be able to speak, but this complaint is bordering on pedantry.

All my gripes are small, and did not spoil my enjoyment of this innovative and original book. Haunters is thoroughly entertaining from start to finish.  Fans of Colfer, Horowitz and Higson, could do a whole lot worse than picking up Taylor.  Recommended.

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