In Mehta’s debut novel, a woman is murdered in the midst of conducting a séance, leaving the police swamped with motives and suspects.
It’s nearing Christmas in Chicago 1953. Rosa Carter gathers friends and family for a séance, her true intention, it seems, being to appease Adolf Hitler’s spirit, which has been haunting her. But before she can call forth Hitler’s ghost to reveal secrets, Rosa collapses with a bullet in the head. Inspector Charlie Poe learns that nearly every attendee had reason to want Rosa dead, even the woman’s goddaughter, Carol, who may very well be the child of Hitler. Author Mehta sets the stage for an old-fashioned murder mystery: an abundance of suspects in the same room when the murder occurs and a title that’ll have readers keeping an eye on the victim-to-be. But the novel changes its tactic just as police begin questioning suspects one by one, with lengthy flashbacks that aren’t necessarily recollections, such as Carol’s mother, Ann, flashing back to working at a London hospital in 1940, including a conversation for which she wasn’t present. The flashbacks also reveal Rosa’s curious, sordid past, some of which is even more intriguing than her friendship with Hitler (e.g., being revered in India as the white Hindu with a noted singing voice), but those plot points add little to the mystery, particularly since they offer mostly the same information divulged through interrogations. And the investigation itself a bit peculiar: Poe and others seem more interested in exposing motives than compiling evidence; oddly enough, they end up arresting the one suspect who doesn’t seem to have a motive. The firmly established 1953 setting is the book’s strong suit—blistering cold weather and hefty snow occasionally halt the case—and a strong second half forgoes the flashbacks in favor of boosting the mystery with more murders, both attempted and successful. Inspector Poe, who handles the bulk of the case, is a winsome, likable man. His relationship with Sammy, his perpetually upbeat and loyal cocker spaniel, proves more rewarding than his romance with Mandy, a receptionist who’s introduced too late in the story to make much of an impact.
Short on mystery, but heightened by an impressive atmosphere and a first-rate inspector.