Click here to read reviewer Michael Leonard's take on Things Half in Shadow.
An historical mystery set in 1919 Philadelphia, this novel focuses on the public fascination with spiritualism.
Reporter Edward Clark has been tasked with writing a series of articles exposing
a practice that is rife with charlatans and con men. Clark’s own past--a story of death and tragedy--is pushed to the background in an attempt to create a new life for himself, one he lives on his own terms--including his intended marriage to a young lady firmly ensconced in Philadelphia society, Miss Violet Willoughby. Violet epitomizes the life Clark aspires to, of certain propriety and social standing, a reputation without the hint of scandal.
Clark is right to resist his assignment.
His first encounter with charlatan Mrs. Lucy Collins introduces him to the parlors of carefully manipulated deceit, where the tricks of the trade induce believers to accept an alternate reality, the ability to communicate with their dead loved ones. Collins is far more clever than Clark, talking him into a partnership (a little blackmail, really) where the two of them will join forces to expose other mediums, Lucy a foe easier for Clark to join than continue to oppose. The attraction between them is uncomfortably strong for Clark, though he refuses to credit Lucy’s considerable charms, both mental and physical.
The real drama begins the night of a séance with celebrated medium Lenora Grimes Pastor, an event filled with inexplicable experiences for all present, communication with the spirits unlike anything Lucy or Edward had anticipated. Unfortunately, the evening ends with the shocking death of Mrs. Pastor. With no access in or out of the locked room where the séance took place, what was once a journalistic expose becomes instead a murder mystery, Clark and Collins determined to clear their names of suspicion and find the killer as well. Finn has carefully set the stage for a transition from curiosity to murder by the night of the tragic event, from the rage of spiritualism in the early 20th century to the social structure of a city teeming with entrenched class distinctions, where both the wealthy and the devious flourish, social mores dictated by a Victorian mindset.
In spite of his past, which is only gradually explored as circumstances demand, Clark deeply desires the world that marriage to Violet offers, despite the pull of his physical attraction to Lucy Collins and an increasing fascination with the secrets behind Mrs. Pastor’s demise and other deaths that follow. The mystery expands with other nefarious acts (murder) and Edward’s forced confrontation with a past he had hoped would never resurface.
He is in deep conflict with the reality of his life and the path forward. Curiosity whetted by potential revelations, the reader is called on to follow this pied piper as he opens a door to the past.
Accepting the premise of the novel, which is essentially a mystery, the journey leads beyond the expected results. And though the idea is interesting, it is not original. Are the contained passion of genteel Victorian sensibility and a story yet to be told sufficient to warrant further investment in these characters and their continued adventures?