By Kim Taylor Blakemore
Publication Date: September 27, 2022
I became familiar with this author when I stumbled across When Alice Fell, one of the best historical mysteries I’ve read to date. Her ability to bring her characters to life is phenomenal, and that talent didn’t disappoint in her newest book.
Set in 1877 during the early days of the Spiritualist movement in New England, this novel shines an unflinching light on the fact that most of the so-called mediums of the time were frauds, employing tricks that might seem laughable today. However, people got rich using these methods and Clem is taking full advantage of people’s desperation to connect with their deceased loved ones by providing consulting services to add more “wow” to a seance. Her services are discreet and effective and she’s well worth her fee.
As a child, Maud was known as “The Maid of Light,” able to legitimately connect beyond the veil and widely popular because of her skill. Now, however, her spirit guide has departed and she’s only a few months from the poorhouse. On a recommendation from a peer, she reluctantly hires Clem to fill her parlor and her coffers. However, Maud is the real deal and Clem’s tricks don’t sit well with her. But Clem is a force to be reckoned with and Maud finds it hard to argue when money is flowing in and her name is once again spoken with reverence. Until investigators get a little too close to uncovering Clem’s tricks and Maud gets an inkling of Clem’s dark history.
At its most basic level, this was a great read. The period details are excellent, the tension is maintained throughout, and the author had a way of manipulating my feelings so skillfully I didn’t even realize it was happening. Clem begins as fairly sympathetic, just a woman finding her niche in a difficult world while Maud is, well, a bit maudlin and unable to make her own way without assistance. But at some point in the novel my opinion of these women flipped and it was so well done, I wasn’t able to put my finger on where, exactly, it happened. All I knew was that somehow, Maud had gotten under my skin and Clem was much more damaged than I’d originally thought.
The point of view shifts between Clem and Maud and the reader is deeply embedded in each character. Lots of showing, not a lot of telling. Exactly what I look for in a character-driven story. And the ending will leave you on tenterhooks imagining what comes next. I’m not sure if there’s enough left unresolved for a sequel or if that’s the author’s intention. Things are left a bit up in the air but the book wrapped up satisfactorily for me, yet still left a “what if?” hanging.
If you’re interested in the Spiritualist movement or just like great historical fiction, pick this one up.
4.25/5 stars ⭐⭐⭐⭐+
Thank you to NetGalley and Lake Union Publishing for providing the ARC. I’ve left my review honestly and voluntarily.
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