Things Half in Shadow by Alan Finn (Gallery-Dec.2014)-In Alan Finn’s new historical mystery, he plunges his reader into 1860s Philadelphia at the height of the “medium” craze. Our narrator is Philadelphia newspaper reporter Edward Clark who tells the story at a remove of many years, and of course an accumulation of much wisdom, at the behest of his granddaughter, who is always looking for a good tale. The tale he tells is an intriguing one, indeed. In 1869, Edward gets a story assignment that he’d rather not have: he’s to visit mediums that have set up shop and out them as frauds. He would prefer to keep to the crime beat, but he also wants to keep his job, so he reluctantly agrees. His first mark is the indomitable Lucy Collins, who is, of course, furious after he systematically points out all of her tricks of the trade after he sits through one of her séances.
Lucy is then forced to do the only thing she can think of, which is to blackmail Edward into helping her out her own competition so she can be the only game in town, and she’s armed with some pretty explosive ammunition: secrets in Edward’s past that he thinks will threaten his livelihood and engagement to his beloved Violet if they were to ever see the light of day. One of these secrets is the murder of his mother by his father’s hand, and he’s spent his entire life distancing himself from that horrible event.
So, Lucy and Edward set out to discredit the many mediums defrauding the good people of Philadelphia, but they don’t get very far, because their first visit, to Lenora Grimes Pastor, ends in her horrifying death (after some very disturbing events), and it seems like she may have been murdered. Of course, everyone at the séance are suspects, and Lucy and Edward set out to clear their names and hopefully find out the truth of what really happened to Lenora Grimes Pastor.
This book is addictive. It’s one of those one-more-page kinds of things that turns into a late night reading until the end. It draws comparisons to Caleb Carr’s work (which I adore), and I suppose that’s close, but really, this is a unique creation all its own. Edward’s past is fascinating, and his chemistry with the strong willed, devil may care Lucy is exquisite. No, there’s not romance, other than the light moments between Edward and his fiancé Violet, but there is plenty of romantic tension. Edward and Lucy bicker constantly and no matter what Edward can dish out, Lucy is more than capable of lobbing it right back at him, yet Edward is undeniably attracted to her, in spite of himself. She smart, and capable, and, like Edward, has a past that she’d rather keep secret. It was fascinating to read about all the tricks that mediums of the time employed to fool their customers, and Finn builds 1869 Philadelphia to the nines. There are some creepy moments and the supernatural elements are a nice touch, forcing Edward to confront some otherworldly things, while also facing the pain of his past. Edward and Lucy make a cracking duo, and I’m sincerely hoping from more in their world, and from this author.