The London Séance Society

Written by Sarah Penner
Review by J. Lynn Else

In 1873, the London Séance Society is a gentlemen’s-only club whose president’s murder during an All Hallows Eve soiree has been unsolved for months. Society vice-president Mr. Morley (told in first-person narration) is pressured to produce answers. There’s only one person he can think to call on: renowned medium Vaudeline D’Allaire. Meanwhile in Paris, since her sister’s murder, Lenna (told in third-person narration) has taken an apprenticeship with Vaudeline, who specializes in helping people connect with unsolved murder victims. Lenna struggles with her grief and trusting in that which she can’t see, including a growing affection towards her teacher. Despite having fled London a year earlier for her safety, when Mr. Morley requests Vaudeline’s services, she agrees. Lenna hopes when in London Vaudeline can shed light on her sister’s murder too.

The story is about connections. From the living to the dead, to the characters and their inner circles, the complex web of these connections slowly unravels until the truth is at last unveiled. Penner flips back and forth through time, mostly through character recollections. As past tense verbs aren’t often employed, it’s easy to mix up the past versus present narratives. While Lenna and Morley interact within the same time and place, the changing of narratives from first and third person within the same scenes feels disruptive to the story’s flow. Character-wise, Lenna is frustratingly inept and often hinders her own plans with rash decisions. Plus, it takes her a bit too long to figure things out. A small historical note: the women are referred to and sign off as “Ms.,” a term not in use until the 1950s.

During the seances, a lush gothic atmosphere permeates the narrative in entrancing and spine-tingling ways. Readers will also enjoy the multiple twists and turns of the plot in this supernatural murder mystery.