The Spiritualist is a bit of a mash-up: nice girl/bad boy romance, mystery, spiritualism. I read Chance's An Inconvenient Wife a couple of years ago and felt some of the same dissonance (difficult to decide whether or not you like the characters).
The rise of the cult of Spiritualism fascinates me, and I was drawn to the book for two reasons: I like this kind of Victorian Gothic mystery, and I'd read two nonfiction books about the Fox sisters (who are actually mentioned in the novel). (Talking to the Dead: Kate and Maggie Fox and the Rise of Spiritualism by Margaret Weisberg and Exploring Other Worlds: Margaret Fox, Elisha Kent Kane and the Antebellum Culture of Curiosity by David Chapin.
Although some reviews have praised Chance for the historical detail, I'm not sure that I found the detail that authentic. The apparent acceptance of middle-class Evelyn (Evie) Atherton into New York society was not likely, and although the acceptance was less genuine than Evie believed, I still find it difficult to believe that she would have been comfortable with the creme de la creme of N.Y. bluebloods. Especially since she attended events without her husband....
Evelyn's father was an investigator, but Evelyn doesn't seem to have learned much about the business. Her character seems to vacillate back and forth.
OK - quick summary. Evelyn's husband is murdered after a Seance, and she is eventually charged with his murder. Who killed her husband and why?
It was an interesting read, but somehow a bit affected.
The devotion of the members of the small circle who attended the frequent spiritual gatherings led by the handsome and charismatic medium Michel Jourdain does fit historic accounts. Believers were dedicated and often contributed large sums and expensive gifts. William James studied spiritualism and was generally supportive; Nobel-laureate physiologist Charles Richet was a convert; Arthur Conan Doyle was also a believer.
None of the characters in the novel were entirely positive, which is an interesting take. Also, one angle or complication involving the relationship between Jourdain (the medium) and his patron is left ambivalent, leaving the reader with a prurient curiosity.
Sooo...what do I think, overall? Megan Chance likes to keep things a bit edgy. Feelings about the characters are often a little uncertain. It certainly kept me reading.
I did like The Seance by John Harwood better, though.
Fiction. Mystery/Suspense/Supernatural. 2008. 419 pages.