Thursday, June 16, 2011

IN BRIEF: The Séance - John Harwood

Imagine if you can a crime fiction pastiche that is a mash-up of Wilkie Collins and John Dickson Carr and you will have Harwood's second novel The Seance.  Here is an unabashed homage to the Victorian sensation novel and the early 19th century Gothic: a little of Mary Shelley, a little of Anne Radcliffe, a dollop of Walpole and even a dash of Trilby thrown in for good measure.  There are loads of supernatural overtones, a locked room mystery, several mysterious vanishings, a sinister doctor who practices mesmerism, and one gruesome murder by an explosive device. Reminiscent of the works of the Brontes or LeFanu with their memorable settings this story takes place in the intensely Gothic Wraxford Hall, a haunted and decaying mansion, and the surrounding grounds known as Monk's Wood.

As with Collins there are multiple narratives that take the form of manuscripts, journals, diaries and letters and tells the story of a cursed family and its descendants. It's a gripping and intriguing read with quite a few surprises. A subplot features a bizarre science fiction element in that a character appears to have been experimenting with lightning in the hopes of gaining eternal life. Nice creepy touches include the suit of armor with a secret, the discovery of the hidden room where Cornelius Wraxford met his fate, the ghost that haunts Monk's Wood. The finale gets overly complicated, but all the tangled ends of the plot wrap up in what amounts to three endings.


  1. Sounds really great John - never ready anything by this author but shall definitely add it to the list - cheers!

  2. Is the locked room mystery any good? You know, something fiendishly clever or at the very least somewhat original and not a rehashed old trick or uninspired. I'm very demanding when it comes to the impossible!

  3. I had to remove a few spoilers and even reading it now I think I've given away too much. oi thought I was making it enticing, but I think I should've stopped while I was ahead. I wouldn't call the locked room fiendishly clever at all. The book includes a violation of one of Knox's cardinal rules for detective fiction. But I really enjoyed it despite that. I was surprised three separate times, in fact. Even if the locked room solution is less than imaginative it is fitting for the type of book the Harwood wrote which is intended to be a throwback to the Victorian age. This type of book will always be my first love. Goes back to my college days when I specialized in this type of literature.

  4. Okay, you talked me into it - I am so Wilkie Collins conscious at the moment that the mere mention of his name makes me sit up and take notice anywhere and everywhere. Sounds good, John. It's added to my TBR list. For the future though, not right now. Got too much else on my plate. :)


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