Because I have a fascination with people who fake talking to the dead, or actually believe they talk to the dead, I went to Lily Dale, and Camp Chesterfield, two hotbeds of spiritualism. The first was a lively, forgive the pun, place, the other seemingly dead and buried. I’ve sought books that have a theme involving those who contact spirits, and so far, have struck out in my choices. Not that The Spiritualist by Megan Chance, wasn’t entertaining, it was. The female protagonist as the daughter of a detective in Victorian New York City is interesting. The story is told in the first person by Evelyn Atherton, who married above her class to a very wealthy, solid, well known family. Peter Atherton met his wife at her father’s office, and after some conversations, proposed. Evelyn is unversed in the NY social scene, and usually attends functions unescorted by her emotionally distant husband. The opening of the book reveals on this night Peter has asked Evie to attend a seance at Dorothy Bennett’s home, Dorothy being of the one of the oldest and highest standing family in society, yet unconventional in her activities. Dorothy holds seances frequently, with others who believe as she. And she has a star medium in residence. Michel Jourdain contacts Dorothy’s long dead sons, and the ailing older woman is comforted. Evelyn doesn’t believe in such nonsense, but to please a husband who is cold and unavailable, she attends the seance with an open mind. Jourdain is sexy and appealing, naturally, in a dangerous, dark manner. He goes into a trance, taps are heard, the table rises, and spirits speak through him. Same old, same old.
This is a murder mystery, the added incentive for me to purchase it. At the seance, a shot is fired, and although no one was injured, Peter believes the shot was meant for Jourdain, and leaves determined to get to the bottom of the incident. He found weeks later, dead, down by the river the victim of a robbery, the police suspect. Until whispers from Peter’s own family and an upstanding societal lady who posed as Evelyn’s friend, repeats complaints from Evie about her cold husband. She’s arrested for his murder, bailed out by Peter’s law partner, Benjamin Rampling, whose personal attendance on Evelyn gives her hope that she isn’t alone in what appears to be a nightmare situation.
Part Gothic, part ghost story, part crime story, and a whole lot of romance/sexual titillation, the book did hold my attention, but not for the reasons I was hoping for. The seances seemed historically accurate but they didn’t draw me in, didn’t enthuse me to the point where I looked forward to the next one. And naturally, the twist of Evelyn being a natural medium, one who actually can reach out to the dead, is a projected storyline early on, at least for me. Maybe it’s because I’ve read and seen so many crime pieces, that every plot twist or idea has been done, and I catch on long before most. That may account for knowing the big so called secret all the way through the book from almost the first page, and was weary of the tip toeing around it, chapter after chapter. Jourdain’s character fell into the syndrome of overt bad boy, but is he really a good boy? Whereas lawyer Benjamin is supposed to be a bit of an enigma.
Dorothy’s character was quite unusual. An ill older woman apparently sexually involved with Jourdain, a much younger man, with hunk type male nurses carrying her from room to room was a nice change of pace from the standard Gothic characters. As the reader, you felt pity for her loss of two young boys and her desire to communicate with them from the grave. Jourdain gives her that comfort, although fraudulently. When Evelyn genuinely contacts her children, the effect is not as positive.
The big reveal was not much of a surprise as I’d surmised it as I said, from long before. But for those not as versed in crime fiction and who like romance and sexual scenes, as well as historical settings, this would be an enjoyable peak into Victorian spiritualism.