More Family than Ghost Hunter: Michael Banin’s The Ghost Hunter and His Family

Unearthing the Unearthly“That was confirmation of her first judgment; and, at the same time, Rose thought she began to see her way in investigating the mystery. . . .”

 — Michael Banin,
The Ghost Hunter and His Family

Naturally, with a title that features a character dubbed “The Ghost Hunter,” I felt obligated to read the 1833 novel from which the quotation above comes. Unfortunately, that character, Morris Brady, stays mostly offstage after an initial, far-from-dazzling ghost hunt. As that same quotation suggests, Morris’s sister Rose acts more as the book’s central investigator of strange goings-on.

In fact, rather than exploring the exploits of Morris, The Ghost Hunter and His Family becomes much more about the young man’s family and their response to his arrest for robbing a neighboring household. Yes, Morris’s passion to see a ghost is at the root of his involvement in the complex crime, but one really can’t call this novel a work of ghost hunter fiction.

1852 Ghost Hunter & Family
The tattered cover a 1852 reprint of The Ghost Hunter and His Family

That was a bit disappointing to me. And then my hopes were dashed when I learned that Rose Brady only exhibits quick glimmers of being a detective character involved in a ghostly mystery. The evidence conveniently comes to her more than is tenaciously unearthed by her. While the novel borrows freely from the mystery and Gothic genres, Ghost Hunter could fit as easily on the domestic drama shelf.

As such, it’s much closer to, say, Jane Austen’ s Northanger Abbey (1818) or perhaps one of those Anne Radcliffe novels from earlier. To anyone to knows those books, I might have spoiled the ending of Banin’s novel just a bit. Still, the driving question isn’t really “Are the ghosts real?” so much as “How can a son’s act of disobedience ensnare him in a web of deceit and revenge?” Read with this in mind — and without the hopes that it might prove to be either ghost hunter fiction or a mystery with hints of the supernatural as well as a rare female detective — it’s a novel that’s worth reading. That is — if one enjoys the odd charms of the didactic potboilers from its era. Think of it as an Irish spin on what was popular in England in 1833.

In the end, though, The Ghost Hunter and His Family does not fit into my ghost hunter fiction bibliography and even less so on my early occult detective list.

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