cover image LOST


Gregory Maguire, . . ReganBooks, $26 (352pp) ISBN 978-0-06-039382-3

Before he broke onto the adult bestseller lists with his irreverent interpretations of the Cinderella story (Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister) and the Wizard of Oz (Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West), Maguire wrote children's books with titles like Six Haunted Hairdos, Seven Spiders Spinning and Four Stupid Cupids. His latest is a virtual literary paella of adult and children's fantasies: Jack the Ripper, A Christmas Carol, Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, The Exorcist— even a wafting glimpse of Dracula. The result is a deftly written, compulsively readable modern-day ghost story that easily elicits suspension of disbelief. American writer Winifred Rudge, whose mass market book about astrology has been far more successful than her fiction, is in London to research a novel linking Jack the Ripper to the house in Hampstead where her own great-great-grandfather—rumored to be the model for Ebenezer Scrooge—lived. But as Winifred discovers, there is no evidence that the Ripper ever visited Hampstead, let alone buried one of his victims inside the chimney of a house there, and his presence in the story is a red herring. Much more interesting is the mysterious disappearance of Winnie's cousin, John Comestor, the latest resident of the family house. Moreover, something is making an infernal racket inside the chimney, and soon there are other bizarre manifestations of some unseen force. A Dickensian assortment of neighbors (one dotty lady is called Mrs. Maddingly) variously obfuscate and hint at strange events. Maguire's prose is both jaunty and scary; he knows how to mix spooky ingredients with contemporary situations. By the time a spirit called Gervasa begins to speak through Winnie, readers will be hooked. (Oct. 2)