Thursday, October 2, 2008
Review: The Spiritualist, by Megan Chance
One wintry evening in 1857, Evelyn Atherton allows her husband to convince her to attend a séance at the home of wealthy society lady Dorothy Bennett. When a gun misfires during the séance, Peter Atherton, a well-known lawyer and son of a wealthy New York family, determines to find out why. But soon after, Peter turns up dead, and Evelyn is the chief suspect. She then determines to find out who really killed her husband—and her suspicion immediately determines that Michel Jourdain, a famous medium, must be Peter’s killer.
There were a few things about Chance’s portrayal of New York in the mid-19th century that bothered me a bit. First, I thought it was a little odd how the society matrons welcomed Evelyn, an outcast, into their midst, without question. Second, the author is maddeningly unspecific when it comes to details about the city in that period. Where on Fifth Avenue, for example, was Dorothy Bennett’ house? (my best guess is near Washington or Union Square, since the wealthy elite hadn’t yet moved that far uptown). Also, I thought it was uncharacteristic for Evelyn to go by herself into what I assume, from the description the author gives us, is Five Points, though yet again, Chance is unspecific. Its like she didn’t really do her research in that aspect. Also, I thought the heroine was a little bit too gullible at times. So much for being the daughter of a private investigator.
However, I really enjoyed the mystery. It was extremely unusual, and even though I guessed pretty early on at what part of it was, the full thing came as a complete surprise. The way that each character managed to subtly manipulate one another was pretty ingenious, too. The best parts of this novel were the séances, and its fascinating how Evelyn transforms from being an unbeliever to a participant. Evelyn’s discoveries are unsettling, and that’s what’s so great about this book—nothing is what it seems. The book is fast-paced and enjoyable for the most part.