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by Philip Gooden

Pub Date: June 1st, 2011
ISBN: 978-0-7278-6995-1
Publisher: Severn House

The Victorian fascination with spiritualism leads to murder in this second adventure for a newlywed couple (The Salisbury Manuscript, 2008).

London law clerk Thomas Ansell and his bride Helen are dubious of the fashion for the occult, but they gamely attend a seance to see for themselves. Their skepticism only increases when the medium, Ernest Smight, is caught red-handed and arrested as a fraud. Helen regrets her harsh stance when she reads of Smight’s suicide, but her resolve is sharpened upon learning that her spinster aunt, Julia Howlett, has been taken in by one of these charlatans. By coincidence, Aunt Julia lives in Durham, where Thomas is sent to take an affidavit from Major Sebastian Marmont, a stage magician whose Oriental curios are the subject of dark speculation. Thomas and Helen head north to make Aunt Julia see reason and to formally record the truth about the Lucknow Dagger. Upon their arrival, Aunt Julia’s pet spiritualist, Eustace Flask, puts on an impressive show—so impressive that even when Major Marmont exposes Flask’s tricks, Julia maintains her faith in him. Whatever Flask’s skills, they aren’t enough to protect him. Helen finds his body with the throat slashed and, hysterical, is taken to gaol. She’s soon released after a parcel arrives at the police station containing an unsigned confession and the murder weapon: the Lucknow Dagger. Thomas must protect his client and his wife by getting to the bottom of the matter via a dashing last-minute rescue.

Interesting depictions of magic shows and seances consistently upstage generic characters with weak motives.