Thursday, July 31, 2008

The Spiritualist by Megan Chance

On a cold night in January of 1957, at her husband Peter’s request, a highly sceptical Evelyn Atherton reluctantly attends a séance with him. Peter’s interest in spirit circles was born from the need to reach out to his dead mother. Evie wanted no part of the new craze where society’s elite paid great sums of money to commune with the dead through self-proclaimed mediums, or swindlers. Having been married for only three years, Evelyn had become unsettled over her husband’s apathy towards her. Was it because he married her even though she was far below his station?

During the séance, a gunshot resounds which barely missed Peter. Afterwards, Peter, departs in search of answers. Several days pass. Evie does not hear from Peter and she begins to worry. When Peter is found murdered, she learns that not only society, but her in-laws turn on her.

Her world takes on a nightmarish quality. Because she is of the lower classes, and because her marriage catapults her into the highest echelons of society, she becomes the primary suspect in his murder.

At the reading of the will, Evie learns Peter has left everything to her and has excluded his entire family. This, coupled with the knowledge of her estranged and dwindling relationship with her husband, convinces the police and his family she is responsible for his murder and is arrested.

Shunned by society, no one comes to her aid. To make matters worse, her entire inheritance is frozen pending trial. With no means, Evie struggles to find an attorney who will take her case. Peter’s law partner, Ben, comes to her aid and readily accepts the case. Dorothy Bennett, the wealthy socialite who arranged the ill-fated spirit circle posts bail and invites Evie to reside with her in the belief that the spiritualist who lives with her, Michael Jourdain, can contact Peter's spirit and learn the identity of the true murderer.

Convinced Michael is a fake, Evie comes to believe he is responsible for her husband’s demise. Only by living under the same roof with can she find her husband’s true murderer and prove her innocence. Soon after her arrival, Peter begins to appear in her nightmares and in visions. Each time, he warns her not to trust a man close to her. Evelyn is soon troubled by Michael Jourdain, whom she finds both intriguing and abhorrent. Confused by her burgeoning feelings, matters go from bad to worse when other members of the spiritualist community realize she is a true medium herself.

As time runs out and the time for trial nears, Evie finds herself trapped amidst duplicity, suspicion, charlatans, murderers, and lies. She must unravel the web of mystery and deceit soon, lest her own sanity be at risk and she succumbs to madness like her mother before her.

Megan Chance has successfully recreated the time and feel of old New York. In this delicious novel, she serves up a tale of desperation and despair while maintaining historical accuracy to accurately depict societal norms and beliefs and the desperation of the living to maintain contact with loved ones who have passed. This mystery novel has many twists and turns to keep readers enthralled to the very shocking, but satisfying end.

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