Hazardous Spirits

Written by Anbara Salam
Review by Fiona Alison

In 1923 Edinburgh, society is in national mourning―for the Great War, the Spanish flu, cataclysmic events which have taken a terrible toll, and people are desperate to connect with those they have lost. Robert and Evelyn Hazard have had their share of tragedy like everyone else, but something strange is happening in their household. Robert’s attention seems distant, his focus elsewhere. Then he announces he can hear and speak to the dead! Evelyn absolutely forbids it, but then she discovers he is following his passion anyway, behind her back. Their doctor says Robert is either 1) insane, 2) lying or 3) telling the truth, but this medical clarification doesn’t help Evelyn, who is very afraid her dead sister will come through the veil if it’s true.

Adopting the ‘if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em’ philosophy, Evelyn supports her husband through thick and thin, despite all her misgivings. She wavers constantly between her skepticism of mediums, psychics, and seances, and occasional signs which prove it’s all true. So as the couple moves into bright new circles, gadding with the monied and the eclectic, she forgoes her family for their new life.

Salam calls attention to family, loyalty, love, and trust, leaving her story open to interpretation, and giving it a clever, ambiguous ending. Characters are well drawn and humanly flawed, interweaving flashbacks to Evelyn’s past, but the time switches can be confusing, and I didn’t always know right away when I was no longer in contemporary times. Readers are pulled along on Evelyn’s journey, as she mentally wanders from one side of the debate to the other, without really knowing her destination. I enjoyed this take on the between-wars era and the author’s comforting humor, which beautifully captures the spirit of the times, not least in the book title.