Violet Willoughby is the 16-year-old daughter of a medium in late Victorian England in the 1870s. Violet is a girl with scruples, and hates deceiving her mother’s clients during faked séances. She has two consolations for the life she detests: books and her mother’s young handyman, Colin. When Mrs. Willoughby takes Violet and Colin to Lord Jasper’s estate for a reading, Violet is stunned to discover that she can see real ghosts, particularly the ghost of a teenage girl, Rowena, who drowned the previous year. Rowena haunts Violet until Violet accepts her own powers and the responsibility of solving the mystery surrounding Rowena’s death.
Haunting Violet is an engaging historical fantasy. Harvey moves with ease between fraudulent séances and Violet’s terrifying encounters with real ghosts. The historical details are accurate, although occasionally heavy-handed. In her quest to solve Rowena’s murder, Violet tries various methods of detection, including that new-fangled invention, the Ouija board. The mystery is competently done, and young adult readers will be guessing until the end. The inevitable romance is charming and avoids being too saccharine. Violet’s characterization is not the strongest, but the robust plotting and action scenes make up for it.