The Leech did not just kill the living. It had a use for the dead as well, a purpose both strange and terrible which was suited only to ghosts, a purpose beside which dying seemed like nothing.
(Cold Bath Street by A.J. Hartley. P27.) Synopsis:
9.22pm. Preston Oldcorn is walking home from Scouts when a cold hand plunges into his chest. He finds himself stuck in a sort-of limbo world. Preston is merely dead, not most sincerely dead.
The same thing that threatened him in life is hunting the souls of young people in the afterlife. Preston must go through the local history of his home town and solve the mysteries of the afterlife before the shadow takes his soul. To do so, he must brave the scariest parts of town – Cold Bath Street and the Miley tunnel.Review:
A compelling ghost-story, and a love song to the Preston of the author’s youth.
This kept me turning the pages into the night. I loved Preston’s afterlife and his interactions with the other young people who had lost their lives. He meets characters from the ghost-stories of his childhood – the Bannister Doll and a squadron of Roman Centurions, as well as the more recently dead like his new friend Roarer.
Preston starts out as a brooding youth. He is cross that his parents won’t let him buy a leather jacket, cross that they make him go to Scouts and partake in other ‘wholesome’ activities. I love how his feelings change over the course of the story. There are strong messages about boys acting tough to cover their fear. Boys feeling the need to hide their emotions. Lots of recent YA has centred on girls and gender-equality, and it is lovely to find one which focuses on boys.
There are two interesting characters in the living world who deserve a mention. The first is Tracey, the girl who Preston haunts. I loved the dynamic between Tracey and Preston. The second is Nora Mcintyre, the church caretaker who has a particular connection to the dead of Preston. I was particularly intrigued by Nora. There is a brilliant twist in her story which is revealed in the final chapters.
The rule of thumb with YA is to write about the current time. Although I am not a teenager, and can’t talk for the teenage readership, I think Cold Bath Street proves that a good story can be set in any place and time. Preston’s cultural references are different from those of today’s youth, but his tedium at being young and lacking agency in his own life will be familiar to many. I loved the metaphor of being stuck in 9.22pm. Neither day nor night, child nor adult.
As much as I enjoyed the book, I have strong feelings about the ending. This didn’t spoil my reading at all – I love the final battle and the answer to the mystery. The part I want to talk about is the result. As this is only the final three pages, it doesn’t affect my recommendation in the slightest, but I would love to talk about this if you have read the book.
This is the first YA Novel from UCLAN Publishing. If they continue to publish stories at this standard, they are one to watch out for.
Thanks to UCLAN Publishing and Hazel Holmes for my copy of Cold Bath Street. Opinions my own.