The Spirit Engineer

Written by A. J. West
Review by Karen Warren

Set in Ireland between 1914 and 1920, The Spirit Engineer is based on the true story of William Jackson Crawford and his encounters with the medium Kathleen Goligher. Jackson is an engineer who is drawn into the spiritual world when he is recruited to investigate Goligher and her associates, who are widely regarded as fraudulent. Sceptical at first, he gradually becomes an enthusiast with a firm belief in psychic phenomena. Set against a backdrop of the Irish fight for Home Rule and the outbreak of the First World War, the novel also brings in other real-life figures with an interest in spiritualism, such as Arthur Conan Doyle and Harry Houdini.

The story is intriguing, and I was keen to see how it unfolded. The reader is compelled to wonder about the reasons for Crawford’s eventual suicide (which we are told about in the very first chapter). And the spirits that frequent the pages sometimes seem too realistic for comfort. Unfortunately, the prose often gets in the way of the narrative. I found it wordy, with frequent inconsequential details. I was also irritated by the occasional error, such as the description of Kathleen as “Ms Goligher”, a form of address that was not in use at the time. The novel is an interesting exploration of the early 20th-century obsession with spiritualism, but the style may deter some readers.