“Never fall in love with the medium.” So Dr. William McLaughlin, Harvard psychology professor, counsels Martin Finch, his promising graduate student. It is 1922, and spiritualism is in fashion. Dr. McLaughlin, lead investigator for a Scientific American contest for demonstrated proof of psychic phenomena, sends Martin to Philadelphia to investigate the claims of a society couple, Dr. Arthur and Mrs. Mina Crawley. Mina’s gifts come highly praised by none other than Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and her initial unwillingness to accept visitors intrigues the investigative committee. Although Martin’s job is to prove that Mina is a fake, he has a hard time believing anything dishonest about Crawley’s beautiful, charming, much younger wife. When an evening séance reveals the presence of a dry-humored ghost that bears antipathy towards Crawley, the committee takes note. The press jumps on the story, and Martin is left with a real dilemma: continue his fraud investigation as planned, or accept the unlikely role of protector to the woman he’s come to admire.
This elegant, humorous thriller is none the less effective for its subtlety. Throughout the novel, I had no idea where the narrative would go next, and I honestly didn’t care, so absorbed was I in the story. There’s plenty of local Prohibition-era color to satisfy history buffs, and the characters are well-depicted and interesting. If you don’t think a novel can be suspenseful, spooky, and laugh-out-loud funny at the same time, you’re in for a treat with this one.