The Woman Who Spoke to Spirits (A World’s End Bureau Victorian Mystery)

Written by Alys Clare
Review by Franca Pelaccia

It’s 1880 in London, and Lily Raynor has just hired Felix Wilbraham as the clerical assistant for her World’s End Bureau private investigation agency. Cases usually involve reporting on cheating wives, runaway sons or dogs, and small thefts until Ernest Stibbens asks them to investigate a threat toward his wife, Albertina. Albertina is a psychic, and the threat may be coming from beyond the grave. While Lily poses as a customer at a séance and Felix investigates the romance between an aging actress and a young male heir, they stumble on seven unexplained deaths of young female prostitutes, which the law has ignored.

The Woman Who Spoke to Spirits, the first book of the World’s End Bureau Mystery, drew me in from the start and held me to the end. The usual suspects are thrown in, and the villain is a shocker, which makes for a sound mystery, but it’s the characters that are the surprise. Just as Lily is taken aback to find herself hiring a man as her office help, so is Felix at finding himself reporting to a woman. But the chemistry between them is evident, as is the respect, and both develop as a result. The cases also personally affect them, and their responses make for an interesting rapport. Two minor characters, the aging actress Violetta Da Rose and the morally-conscious reporter Marmaduke Smithers, are especially well-drawn and memorable. Felix is engaging, but Lily is too uptight. Whatever “incident” in her history forced her to give up nursing in India and open the agency needs explaining in order for her to become more than a one-dimensional character.

The Woman Who Spoke to Spirits is a solid mystery with some surprising characters. It’s an intriguing introduction to the series, and I look forward to more.