When the pandemic started, I sought out ways to dive into worlds that were different from my own. Not better or worse. Just different. During this time, I fell in love with storytelling through podcasts. There is just something about the way they can build an entire world and story through just the use of sound that draws me in. I can close my eyes, find myself there next to whatever is happening and slip seamlessly into the story. It’s why, when City of Ghosts by director Ryan Patch and writer Carina Green was recommended to me, I rushed to give it a listen.
The story takes place in 1990s NYC and follows Eleanor “El” Rivkin (Brigette Lundy-Paine). She is an information broker who makes a living uncovering and selling the dirty secrets of New York’s elite alongside her friend and partner, the agoraphobic internet wiz Prizrak (Moises Arias). El is hired to investigate a journalist’s murder and finds herself entangled in a web of lies and secrets. A line that eventually crosses into the world her sister Talia (Erin Darke) is preparing to marry into. The world of NYC’s elite.
El’s investigation forces her to confront her own personal history and traumas, as well as her mental illness. What if the hallucinations she thought she was having are actually ghosts from the otherside trying to get her help? What if she stops taking her medicine and allows her “mental illness” to run rampant? And what happens when the ghost of the journalist, Sahar (Golshifteh Farahani), rises above all the rest?
City of Ghosts is described as being a supernatural neo-noir audio drama, which nails it perfectly on the head. The series focuses on El as she goes about her business, meeting with clients, collecting information, finding herself taking on a murder case. But, we also get small peeks into her thought process. Due to events that took place before the beginning of the series, we learn that El now suffers from hearing voices. Something that heavily comes into play as El begins to believe that those hallucinations are actually her ability to speak with the dead.
The supernatural side balances well, as we see El tap into her newly accepted abilities to speak with Sahar as she tries to uncover what actually happens to her. But it never feels cheesy or overdone; it just feels right to how the story flows. City of Ghosts also gives us a look at El’s multiple relationships with those around her. One that comes up often is her relationship with her sister Talia. Lundy-Paine and Darke play off each other so well and the banter between the two could easily be seen as two sisters fighting. Believe me; I am one of four.
But, we also get the chance to see El through Talia’s eyes, giving us someone else’s perception of our main protagonist. But that isn’t her only job. As the story unfolds and we see El’s investigation cross into the world of NYC’s elite, we have Talia to give us another perspective that El wouldn’t be privy to. It really helps to round out the story. Another relationship we see play out is with El’s partner and friend, Prizrak. They give us a better look at the world in which El works and thrives while also representing the agoraphobic community.
The mystery in City of Ghosts is compelling and had me on the edge of my seat. I highly recommend listening to the series, so I won’t be spoiling anything here. But just know that when you think you understand what is going on, the entire story flips on its head. It will be something that will have you creating theories and tearing them apart with each episode. You can even take it a step further and jot down your own notes and try and decide if you can solve the mystery before El does.
But really, one of City of Ghosts’ shining features is in the audio itself. What I love most about audio dramas/podcasts is how they can build a world within your mind using just sound. And as someone who has spent quite a bit of time within NYC, it was easy for me to close my eyes and imagine El walking through the city’s streets and exploring the different sites. But even outside of that, some moments left me in awe simply from the music and sound alone. There is so much to find and enjoy that a second and third listen is highly advised.
Overall, City of Ghosts was enjoyable, entertaining and drew me in so much that I had to make sure I didn’t have other things to do while listening. Clearly, the chores I had decided to do at the same time never actually got done. If paranormal mystery, audio dramas or neo-noir NYC is something that strikes your fancy, this is a must-listen series. Seriously, don’t waste any more time here – go check it out! You can find all the places to listen to it here.
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