Published by Gallery Books on December 30, 2014
Genres: Historical Mystery
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Postbellum America makes for a haunting backdrop in this historical and supernatural tale of moonlit cemeteries, masked balls, cunning mediums, and terrifying secrets waiting to be unearthed by an intrepid crime reporter.
The year is 1869, and the Civil War haunts the city of Philadelphia like a stubborn ghost. Mothers in black continue to mourn their lost sons. Photographs of the dead adorn dim sitting rooms. Maimed and broken men roam the streets. One of those men is Edward Clark, who is still tormented by what he saw during the war. Also constantly in his thoughts is another, more distant tragedy--the murder of his mother at the hands of his father, the famed magician Magellan Holmes...a crime that Edward witnessed when he was only ten.
Now a crime reporter for one of the city's largest newspapers, Edward is asked to use his knowledge of illusions and visual trickery to expose the influx of mediums that descended on Philadelphia in the wake of the war. His first target is Mrs. Lucy Collins, a young widow who uses old-fashioned sleight of hand to prey on grieving families. Soon, Edward and Lucy become entwined in the murder of Lenora Grimes Pastor, the city's most highly regarded--and by all accounts, legitimate--medium, who dies mid-seance. With their reputations and livelihoods at risk, Edward and Lucy set out to find the real killer, and in the process unearth a terrifying hive of secrets that reaches well beyond Mrs. Pastor.
I love a good historical mystery and this one was really well done. There are so many things I liked about it. The supernatural elements were not over the top, they fit in well with the whole mood of the era. The fictional characters rub shoulders with real historical figures, which is always fun. There’s an attraction between Edward and Lucy, but it doesn’t overwhelm the plot, it adds a nice little spark to their interactions.
The story keeps moving well, and the reasons Edward and Lucy have for investigating Mrs. Pastor’s death are reasonable. Sometimes amateur detectives’ motives seem forced. Here, yes the police are investigating, but Lucy’s a suspect, in part because of a secret in her past, and Edward is jobless until the situation is cleared up. They feel they don’t have time to sit around and wait for the cops. As partners, they work together well most of the time, even though they don’t always trust each other.
I like the first person point of view, but I could have done without the initial set-up – my granddaughter wants me to write my story. Blah, don’t give me an excuse for writing it, just do it. Besides, you were a journalist, why should you need a reason to write. Just seemed a little hokey to me.
The mystery itself was good. I was kept guessing who the killer was, but maybe the atmosphere, characters, and setting were a little more absorbing than the actual plot. I’m fine with that.
Overall, it was an engrossing book. I’m hoping we get to see more of Edward and Lucy in the future. I don’t feel like all the threads were tied up at the end of this, there’s room for more.