One of the most satisfying things about Sean Phillips, Jacob Phillips, and Ed Brubaker’s Reckless is the care it takes when unspooling its characters. Protagonist Ethan Reckless has gradually revealed himself to be more than the ruthless shell aimed in a positive direction he thinks himself to be. The wider cast, both recurring and one-off, is likewise dimensional and compelling. The Ghost in You, the fourth Reckless book, underlines this care by turning the spotlight over to series deuteragonist Anna Keller.
Keller is the largely solitary-by-nature-and-choice Reckless’ best friend—a bond forged by a mutual love of movies and the El Ricardo theater (Anna’s home-away-from-home as a kid with a fraught family life, Ethan’s base-of-operations/home for the first three books, and now Anna’s business and heart and soul). She’s also an extremely skilled investigator—as particularly evidenced in last year’s excellent Destroy All Monsters.
So, when Reckless is away on a job in San Francisco and one of Keller’s childhood heroines—Lorna Valentine AKA Channel 14 horror host Evilina—comes looking for help on what seems like a low-stakes job (determining whether her recently inherited LA home with a grisly history is in fact haunted and ideally finding her missing dog), Keller jumps.
But, as Keller knows from both her own and Reckless’ experiences, investigation is slippery work. A chance sighting of a long-lost family member in an almost-forgotten B-movie can lead to a long-in-hiding Nazi who’s worn multiple identities and run multiple schemes in the service of his own viciousness. A look into a powerful land developer’s dirty laundry can lead to an armed brawl in your home as it burns.
The Ghost in You is low-key compared to Reckless, Friend of the Devil, and Destroy All Monsters. The secrets Keller uncovers in her investigation of the infamous Lamour mansion are decidedly more intimate than the conspiracies and plots that have defined the series up until this point. It’s a welcome change of pace, and alongside Keller sliding into full protagonist duties for the volume, it showcases the range that the Phillips and Brubaker have built into the project.
With its merciless corridors of power, marvelously Byronic protagonist, and precise use of color and darkness, Reckless has long had a gothic streak to it. The Ghost in You takes that streak and builds on it with the Lamour mansion. It’s a terrific piece of setwork from Sean and Jacob Phillips, a grand exterior revealing an interior that is both shabby and ominous, not wholly cleared of the remnants of its past lives as a Hollywood star and his beloved’s private paradise, a doomed family’s home and a nun-run “school for wayward girls.”
Both of the Phillips take full advantage of the setting—the older illustrating its dark corners and the younger using black, pale blue, and green for the tense, storm-set opening revisited in the climax.
The father and son’s craft is similarly strong in The Ghost in You’s warmer moments—including a relatively rare occasion where Ethan Reckless seems to be about as happy as he ever gets, a moment to chill with his best friend and take in the world alongside her.
Likewise, Brubaker uses the shift in protagonists to both deepen Anna Keller as a character and expand a bit on Reckless’ Los Angeles. Keller makes for a compelling lead, driven to investigate by compassion and curiosity—both immediate (what is happening to Valentine’s home and why) and longer-term (her childhood has left her with a connection to the allegedly supernatural that has never fully gone away). She’s a very different person compared to her best friend, but they share the work of accepting those things that simply are, for ill and good. She also has different relationships with the book’s supporting cast—some close to the relationships Reckless has with them, others quite different, and wonderfully so.
In the series back matter, Brubaker has described the Reckless series as, in part, an experiment in form. For my money, it has been a tremendous success.
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