Scrooge and Marley (Deceased): A Haunted Man by Jonathan Green

Note: This book is part of the SPFBO 4 competition. Please note that this score might change over time as our team discusses which selections will move on to future rounds.

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I first laid eyes on the cover of Jonathan Green’s Scrooge and Marley (Deceased): A Haunted Man. The art depicts a cartoon Scrooge and the ghost of his deceased friend Marley in an action pose, standing on the stoop of what could pass for Sherlock Holmes’ entryway on Baker Street. Does this book present Ebenezer Scrooge and his ghost sidekick as a new crimefighting duo? Will this story cross over with another popular 19th century literary legend? The answer to both questions is yes, but not in the way I had original thought.

This story is a direct sequel to Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, and picks up exactly one year after the events of the beloved tale. Ebenezer Scrooge is a changed man: he still scowls and Bah, humbug’s his way around town, but the events of the previous Christmas have vastly improved Scrooge’s demeanor. He has become a charitable man, a family man, grateful to the spirits that have showed him how to live a better life. He surprises his accounting clients by extending their loan collection periods, and is generous with bonuses to his assistant as well as with the homeless he encounters on the streets. He’s a reformed curmudgeon with a pure heart, and carries a level of humor and appeal that is entertaining to witness. As night falls on Christmas Eve, Scrooge is once again visited by the ghost of Marley who urges Scrooge to join him in a quest for justice. There have been various wrongs committed to innocent souls that are still floating around the city of London. In exchange for helping these ghostly victims seek justice on their perpetrators, Marley’s eternity in Purgatory might be reduced. And doesn’t Scrooge owe Marley a favor for helping him avoid his own future full of misery and sorrow?

Soon enough, Scrooge becomes entangled in a murder mystery that borrows heavily from an infamous Scottish tale of horror. As the supernatural elements and mysterious events become increasingly personal, can the unlikely duo solve a paranormal murder in time to save what they value most?

One of the more surprising and welcome aspects of this book is its writing. I was initially skeptical of someone taking up the reins of continuing Dickens’ classic story and characters, but was immediately impressed at how well Green emulates Dickens’ attention to detail, flowing prose, and sharp wit. Green paints a vivid picture of a snowy London of two centuries past, utilizing the period’s vernacular in a way that felt like this was a lost chapter of Dickens’ original story. From the description of the snowy setting:

“Moonlight permeated the mist, as if the low-lying cloud has soaked it up like a sponge and curdled it with the dirty yellow light of the smoking street-lamps.”

To the roundabout, exceedingly-British propriety of conversation:

“There are others who find themselves in the same state as I do, bound to this world by their own actions, or inaction, or as a result of the deeds done to them by others—misers, like us, Ebenezer, perjurers, cruel men, wanton women, as well as suicides and the victims of heinous murder—unable to move on until they have made amends for their crimes, or until those responsible for the wrongs perpetrated against them are brought to justice.”

Overall, the story was a joy to read. However, there were a few issues I had with the book. For such a short story, nearly a quarter of it is over before we find out the purpose of its existence. Until that point, it felt a bit like Scrooge fanfic. Also, when the adventure finally begins, we are treated to a strange series of coincidences that seem to exist solely to drive the story towards its conclusion as quickly as possible. It all happened so fast that it felt a bit forced. In addition, once the action picked up, the sharpness of the writing began to decline noticeably. While we do get to spend time with many of the original characters featured in The Christmas Carol, the behavior of some are vastly different than the original. This is a fine, comical decision, but sharply veers from where the story started. Finally, the book ends tersely on an odd cliffhanger. I assume that Green will continue this story down the road, but the suddenness of the ending felt a bit too abrupt.

If you’re a fan of A Christmas Carol, or are seeking a fun twist on historical folklore, then you’ll likely enjoy A Haunted Man. I did not go into this book expecting to like it as much as I did. The back half of the story is a bit thin, but the excellent writing more than makes this novella worth your time. I’m curious to further explore Jonathan Green’s body of work to see how his writing style varies dependent on the subject matter. And who knows what future adventures are in store for Scrooge and Marley? A run-in with Dr. Frankenstein? Perhaps Vlad the Impaler? I’ll be checking Green’s publishing schedule to find out.

7/10 An entertaining, well-written sequel to A Christmas Carol with plenty of fun twists

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