Title: The Blackheath Séance Parlour by Alan Williams
Publisher: Cutting Edge Press
Genre: Historical, Supernatural/Paranormal
Length: 320 pages
Book Rating: B
Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publicist
Two sisters dabble in the dark arts in Victorian London in this tale featuring murder, vampires, malevolent spirits, and a life-size chocolate gorilla
In 1842, two drunken sisters debate their future. Business at the family chocolate shop has ground to a halt, and change is needed. For once, domineering elder sister Maggie doesn’t get her way, and a month later Judy, Maggie, and Netta Walters—a medium with big hair and a bigger secret—open their séance parlor. The locals are shocked, but soon the shop is crammed with people wanting to contact the dead. Despite their change in fortune, a rift grows between the sisters, as Judy gets her gothic novel published, finds a man, and proves to be more capable of contacting spirits than Maggie. Spurred on by jealousy, Maggie tries harder, and soon the Church decides they must be stopped. For fans of the classics—Holmes, Dickens, and Abfab.
The Blackheath Séance Parlour by Alan Williams is a thrilling Gothic novel that is quite fascinating. Set in the 1800s, this exciting story combines supernatural elements with an intriguing mystery, the tiniest hint of romance and a riveting novel within a novel. The resulting tale is richly atmospheric and quite compelling.
Maggie and Judy Cloak are sisters who open a séance parlour after their chocolate business fails. Oldest sister Maggie is very reluctant to agree to Judy’s plan to open the parlour but Judy gives her no choice but to go along with the plan. Judy recruits medium Netta Walters to conduct séances and Netta insists the sisters learn to read tealeaves, tarot cards and the crystal ball. In the midst of their preparations, Judy feverishly pens her Gothic novel and the town of Blackheath is paralyzed in fear by a murderer preying on young women.
Maggie is strong willed, stubborn and very reluctant to make any changes in her life. She is skeptical of Judy’s plan and she is also very fearful of becoming involved with contacting spirits. Maggie is impatient and although she is quite skilled at reading tea leaves, she is quite discouraged by her inability to learn how to use the crystal ball. Growing more frustrated and disenchanted as Judy’s and Netta’s popularity increases, Maggie becomes almost manic as she tries to perfect her psychic abilities. In a stunning turn of events, Maggie is soon in high demand when she is able to channel spirits.
Judy is the more likable of the two sisters and she is genuinely thrilled by not only her success but Maggie’s as well. Her Gothic novel consumes her and she is ecstatic when it is published first as a serial in the newspaper and later as a novel. She eventually becomes quite concerned about Maggie’s obsession with their long missing father but Maggie’s jealousy over Judy’s success drives a wedge between them. Judy’s loyalty to her sister leaves her future happiness in jeopardy when she is forced to choose between the man she loves and Maggie.
Netta is a wonderful character and her backstory is quite interesting. Her abilities as a psychic began early in her life and took her down a very unexpected path. She jumps at the chance for a more secure future, but she is annoyed by the sisters’ lack of commitment to their enterprise. However, she is delighted by Judy’s natural talent for the crystal ball and although she becomes exasperated by Maggie’s impatience, she does continue to try to help her focus on honing her skills. Netta is also haunted by her past and when she comes to face with it, she is shocked by what she discovers.
Alan Williams immediately sets the tone for The Blackheath Séance Parlour and while it is a little slow paced in the beginning, by the middle of the novel, it is impossible to put down. At first, the two different storylines make the story a little disjointed and confusing, but it soon becomes easy to keep the two story arcs straight. Both stories are very riveting and the cliffhanger endings of some of the chapters definitely build anticipation for upcoming events and revelations. All in all, The Blackheath Séance Parlour is an absolutely unique and delightful read that fans of Gothic novels are going to love!