Click here to read reviewer Heather Darcy's take on The Spiritualist.
From the fog-shrouded night in January 1857 to the sophisticated New York society names, Chance sets the stage for a mystery that evokes the eerie atmosphere of the mediums of the 19th century who commune with the spirits, bridging that painful gap between the dead and the living. One such grief-stricken man is Peter Atherton, his mother recently deceased.
Helpless to comfort her husband of three years, Evelyn Atherton supports his quest for closure through the services of the charismatic Michel Jourdain, the latest darling of their wealthy set. As Evie reveals the underlying flaws in her marriage, it becomes clear that her support for Athertonís spiritual endeavor is a desperate move, the first blush of romance fading under the rigors of a demanding mother-in-law and a disinterested husband. Putting her doubts aside, Evelyn is surprised by her reaction to Jourdain, both attracted and repulsed by a man she is convinced is nothing but a charlatan.
When Peter is found murdered, the victim of a stabbing, his wife is appalled. Seeking succor from her in-laws, Evie is devastated when they turn against her to protect the family name from scandal. Shockingly, she finds herself - from an unimportant family with no social clout - the subject of a police investigation: Evelyn is accused of her husbandís murder.
Pitting the forces of wealth and power in New York high society against the minimal resources of one woman, it is clear that special interests and city politics drive Evieís trial, even the lawyers turning a blind eye in favor of the powerful patrons.
With only her husbandís law partner to stand against an indifferent society, Evelyn decides to infiltrate the spiritualist enclave - the home of Jourdainís patroness, Dorothy Bennett - and find the answers herself. Positive the handsome spiritualist is at the heart of the mystery, Evelyn plunges into a world defined as much by those beyond the grave as personal luxury.
Sustaining the 19th-century ambience of the highest echelons of societyís fascination with mediums and possible communion with the deceased, the author explores the fanciful passions of a unique period of society, where faith and reason are derailed by the more arcane possibilities of spirits available to believers. Appealing to the particularly desperate - and wealthy, who can afford such interests - society is rife with charlatans and opportunists.
Evie goes in a skeptic but is caught in a subtle trap of romance and intrigue, the murderer within reach but obscure. Unfortunately the plotline reveals much of the mystery well before the ending, Chance succumbing to the romantic notions of her protagonists to the exclusion of any real suspense. By the time Evelyn faces her husbandís killer, there are few surprises, save one ironic twist that delivers the novel from a banal resolution.