Balzac said that intuition "like the rays of the sun, acts only in an inflexibly straight line." But there is little sunlight in Peter Jinks' second novel. The few freakish shards of insight that do fall upon his confused young hero are deflected and diffused by the Georgian greys of Edinburgh. They have been bounced around the globe by voodoo satellites, all the way from Africa, where Magnus Calder's charismatic sister Claire recently burnt to death.
Intuition opens with a slow hiss of coach brakes, as Magnus returns to Scotland having passed through a disorientating series of timezones to sign off on the paperwork, and to scatter Claire's ashes. Reporting back to his detached parents (they're just setting off for a round of golf) he finds himself "half an inch to the left" of his own body. Ghostly visions of his sister slip around familiar concrete corners. Bewildered, he staggers to Claire's former flat, where he finds a grief more melodramatic - and much creepier - than his own.
Jinks' debut, Hallam Foe (2001), was the seedy tale of a twisted voyeur. Now the novelist has switched perspectives. Magnus may grasp at glimpses of the sibling who has always outshone him, but this time the bereaved narrator is lodged squarely in the viewfinder of the dead: watched, manipulated and redefined by forces that may originate from another continent, or from within his own family. He is compelled to reunite the three parts of a totemic baboon Claire sent back from Africa to three different women from her past. One of whom is Rosie, whose "hale figure" and "fresh, open face" offer Magnus a life more wholesome than that of a ghoststalker. But we suspect that Rosie may not be the "landgirl" of his dreams, which rock him at night between naïve teenage romance and pornographic horror.
Magnus is a Jimmy Stewart character in the Rear Window tradition. He stutters through thoughts he seldom completes. Disabled by grief and self doubt he misinterprets what he sees, and his frustrated passivity is balanced on the brink of rage. We are always one or two plot-steps ahead of him, dragging him on through the chapters while he faffs around borrowing money, setting up a business and moving into a new flat.
Intuition is an odd, will'o'the wisp-ish thriller, which takes on substance only toward its conclusion. More literary types might pretend the pages were turned by a schlocky poltergeist. But I admit that it was me, at 11:57pm, in the study, with the candlestick guttering. True, this book is a bit silly, patchily written and possibly predictable from around the 200-page point. But Jinks has scuttered up the kind of modern spooker you have to complete if you're ever going to hit the pillow in peace. In a genre that normally boils down to the social or psychological, Jinks lures his readers into the uncomfortable realm of the supernatural, via some Namibian witchdoctoring. The image I am left with is tidily Balzacian: that of an African sun, tumbling over and over in a sickening sky.