Historical fiction is as unreliable a realm as it is enthralling. Robert Masello does his best to have the historical beast draw the fictitious burden. This time? Acclaimed author H.G. Wells gets the action hero treatment. Unlikely? Yeah. Probably. But also entirely enjoyable.
The Haunting of H.G. Wells is an entertaining read that does not require a large leap across those uncharted waters of the fantastical. That eventual splash down ain’t all that deep either.
Masello has Wells sent to the Front Line in Belgium. The time is World War I. The mission is one of propaganda. Send reports back on the high spirits of St George’s finest. Calm the homeward families. Ripen potential recruits. His campaign is short lived yet Wells becomes haunted by his experience. That tormented time which follows him home.
On the home front? A charming suffragette named Rachel becomes wrapped in both Wells’ bed chamber and a secret German plan involving chemical warfare. Oh, and why not, let’s add in a little Aleister Crowley alchemy. He’s usually worth a laugh or two.
Masello knows how to write a good story. The action is quick. Tension is tight. The drama utterly ridiculous at times. Example? The reader is constantly reminded that Wells views his marriage as an open one. This is a sloppy half-a-wink of an excuse for Wells to bed the much younger Rachel. Perhaps in a blatant attempt to ply for penance, Masello attempts to build on Jane Wells’ homeward drama. For as tame as HG and Rachel’s affair tends to be, so too is Jane’s plight with a climax that is equally impotent.
The true ecstasy is the action as Wells races against time, putting together clues that conveniently draw from his masterpieces. Similar to his works with Robert Louis Stevenson and Bram Stoker, Masello’s imaginative characterization of a historical personage is a fun one and wins over the story.