Carys Jones may bear the same last name as Harrison Ford’s action hero Indiana, but she has more in common with Robert Langdon from Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code series. For starters, she’s a novice when it comes to adventuring, described by an old boyfriend as “a highly educated, glorified fact-checker” — which is not untrue, at least not at the start of the novel.
Carys, the star of Kris Frieswick’s debut The Ghost Manuscript (Post Hill Press), is a rare book authenticator who’s content to use her many impressive degrees as a means of exploring the ancient manuscripts that fascinate her. She has trouble advocating for herself and finds herself a passive observer in her personal and professional life.
This all changes when Carys’ best friend, the badass, self-possessed Annie, reveals a secret about Carys’ employer: he has arranged for a private sale of a priceless collection using blackmail. Carys believes that the Harper Collection should be donated (as her bullwhip-swinging movie counterpart would say, “It belongs in a museum!”) instead.
When she meets with the owner of the collection, Mr. Harper, he offers her a deal: if she is to follow the trail of his manuscript, and find the final resting place of King Arthur, she can keep his entire library as a reward. Mr. Harper, fascinated by the legend of King Arthur, simply wants to see his life’s ambitions realized through somebody physically and mentally capable of taking the journey.
Thus, Carys sets off on her assignment, which leads her to Wales, a place as significant to her own personal baggage as it is to Arthurian mythology. Frieswick, whose husband’s Welsh bloodline inspired her to incorporate the country into her novel, uses cleverly placed exposition to establish Carys’ hang-ups.
After thirty years of avoiding her past, and several years as a rare book authenticator avoiding realizing her full potential, Carys’ Arthurian crusade is something of an awakening. By creating a character whose arrested development stands in the way of her own happiness, Frieswick has given readers an imperfect underdog to root for.
From the moment Carys takes the job, Frieswick takes on a balancing act; her heroine experiences the emotionally taxing homecoming faced by Sharp Objects’ Camille Preaker while simultaneously experiencing the treasure-hunting discovery enjoyed by Nicholas Cage in National Treasure. It’s hard to reconcile the dread one feels when facing an estranged relative with the excitement of a major career opportunity, but Frieswick navigates these waters delicately while keeping the tone light and playful.
The Ghost Manuscript is a mature take on the adventure novel that touches on mature themes: hostile work environments, family drama and the politics of navigating adult relationships. This novel will appeal to anyone who’s ever watched Homeland and wished for an Indiana Jones reboot starring Claire Danes, or anyone who’s ever wondered what a grown-up Carmen Sandiego would do if she was transported to Wales to hunt down King Arthur’s tomb. Kris Frieswick has created a rich, fully realized character in Carys Jones and given her a worthy quest to embark upon.
The Ghost Manuscript is now available for purchase.
About Kris Frieswick
Kris Frieswick is a journalist, editor, humorist, teacher and author whose work has appeared in national magazines, newspapers and books for more than 20 years. She is an avid cyclist, cook and traveler who divides her time between Cape Cod, Massachusetts and St. Croix, USVI.