Middle-class Evelyn’s dreams appear to have come true when Peter Atherton, scion of one of New York’s most prominent families, proposes marriage. Four years later, Evie’s idyll has long since crashed headlong into stark reality, as she makes the empty rounds of glittering social events without her increasingly distant husband. Though an avowed skeptic, Evie accompanies Peter to a séance to contact his recently deceased mother in order to attempt to mend their relationship. Peter introduces her to the seductive, magnetic, and dangerous medium Michel Jourdain, and shortly afterwards, Peter disappears. When his body is discovered a few days later, Evie finds herself under suspicion for his murder, and must delve into the world of spiritualism and its adherents in order to find the killer before she hangs for the crime herself.
Megan Chance has crafted a dark little confection with The Spiritualist, as hypnotic and alluring as the enigmatic medium, Jourdain. It’s not particularly novel in its plotting or “twists”—the reader will probably peg the murderer well before the denouement. But sexual tension abounds, the prose is stylish, and the ambience deliciously gothic. The characterization is strong; both Evie and Jourdain are intriguing individuals, and the subsidiary characters are also drawn with depth. Evie is particularly well crafted—her desire, as an intelligent woman, to have a man love and value her for her intellect rather than merely as decoration, to connect with an intellectual and spiritual equal, ring true. This theme is nicely echoed in Chance’s descriptions of the spiritualists’ belief in a particular soul’s “affinity” for another soul, in this as well as on other plains. Chance’s depiction of antebellum New York and its society are detailed, with only a few false notes, and this makes for convincing period atmosphere. Pick up The Spiritualist for a quick, entertaining read. Recommended.