My rating: 5 of 5 stars
What if the afterlife consisted of a spiritual destination called the Phantom Cabinet, where the spirits of the dead were broken down and redistributed to create new souls for the newborn? What if this process could be resisted by those who don’t want to be obliterated? What if some of these recalcitrant spirits are those who are filled with anger and hatred caused by the events of their lives? And what if one of these spirits conceived a plan to return to the world of the living to destroy it?
These hypotheticals form the basis of Jeremy Thompson’s Phantom Cabinet. In this fascinating narrative, a space shuttle’s secret launch leads to a breach between the physical and spiritual worlds, causing malevolent spirits to stream into the former. At that moment, Douglas Stanton is born and dies shortly thereafter. Miraculously revived, he lives a life haunted by gruesome ghouls. As the power and presence of these spirits becomes stronger as he grows up, he learns that his spirit, caught between the physical and spiritual worlds, is the conduit for this haunting.
Bullied and ostracized as a “ghost boy,” Douglas has only two friends, Benjy and Emmett. Even these friendships don’t last. Emmett has a falling-out with Douglas, while the forces of the spiritual world eventually do away with Benjy. However, Benjy is able to resist the Phantom Cabinet and creates an otherworldly satellite radio broadcast. Through this broadcast, he tells the story of Douglas’ life to Emmett, who has become a young adult. Douglas, it seems, was not just a “ghost boy”; he was caught up in a struggle with a supremely evil, masked spirit bent on destroying all of humanity in order to take vengeance for her sufferings while alive.
This novel is well-organized and well-written. Although the beginning chapters make it seem as if the book is going to be a horror/sci-fi space opera, Thompson soon brings the reader down to earth. In a deceptively short narrative, he spins a fascinating tale that covers the life of the protagonist, Douglas, from birth to early adulthood. The terror and horror that he and his friends encounter are genuine and believable. The characters and their relationships are well-developed. Finally, having lived in the San Diego area (not far, incidentally, from Thompson’s alma mater, SDSU), I can attest that Thompson’s settings are accurately described — including the latent horror within them, which not everybody in Southern California notices. The Phantom Cabinet is a highly recommended read.
Disclosure: I provided this review in exchange for a review copy of the Smashwords edition of the book. No financial considerations were involved.