Love, lust, lunacy, and drugs cloud the scientific analysis of psychic phenomena in ’20s Philadelphia.
Pleasantly nostalgic atmosphere and a personable young narrator are the attractions in screenwriter Gangemi’s more-than-competent first novel about a recent Harvard psychology graduate’s adventures in spiritual debunking. Upwardly mobile Martin Finch, whose inability to de-humanize his assigned cadavers has taken him out of med school and into psychology, lands a plum assignment when senior faculty scientist William McLaughlin hires him as an assistant. McLaughlin is part of Scientific American’s panel charged with disproving the claims of America’s best mediums to be in touch with the ghost world, and Martin quickly and happily proves he is the right man for the job as he promptly dispatches a couple of formidable charlatans. It appears that the magazine’s $5,000 reward for indisputable ties to the spirit world will remain safely in the vault until the team hears that beautiful Philadelphia socialite Mina Crawley is the real deal. Mrs. Crawley’s appeal is greatly heightened by her reluctance to travel to the magazine and by her lack of interest in the prize money. Injuries make it impossible for McLaughlin to travel, so Martin goes to Philadelphia alone, and when he is frozen out of his hotel room by a chiropodists’ convention, he lodges with the beautiful Mrs. Crawley and her rich, much older, gynecologist husband in their mansion near Rittenhouse Square. Séances ensue. Mina’s contact with the underworld is her late gay brother Walter, and he sounds awfully like the real thing. Even though Martin has locked and sealed all the doors and windows, someone other than the panelists and the Crawleys is in their darkened nursery as tables crash and pigeons appear out of nowhere. Despite falling quickly in love with the obviously disturbed Mina, Martin doggedly follows clues and digs into the very twisted Crawley history—until he Goes Too Far.
Conan Doyle nicely and neatly updated.