Alan Finn: Things Half in Shadow

things-half-in-shadowReally, this book is a lot of bank for your buck. Clocking in at over 400 pages, this book is chock full of rich narrative, coincidence, vivid setting, intriguing characters, and ghosts. I devoured it. Set in post-Civil War Philadelphia, the central character, Edward Clark, is a newspaper reporter and Civil War veteran who is assigned the task of de-bunking the city’s many mediums.

During any post-war period, mediums always pop up, as bereaved family members hope to reconnect with the dead. The first séance Edward attends is presided over by one Lucy Collins, and unfortunately for Lucy, Edward grew up in a family of magicians. He’s on to her tricks and spots almost all of them.

He threatens to expose her, and she threatens to expose him if he doesn’t help her to de-bunk the other mediums in the city, leaving her the only one standing. Edward, a newly engaged man (to the lovely and eminently respectable Violet Willoughby), doesn’t want to upset the apple cart and agrees to go along with her plan. As Lucy points out, if she exposes him, every medium in the city will know who he is and bar him from the premises.

Their first stop is to the biggest, most well known medium in the city, a Mrs. Leonora Pastor. Mrs. Pastor stuns them by revealing things no one could no about their pasts and then stuns them further by dropping dead. Edward is left uncertain that she was a fake – he now believes in the spirit world – and he is united once again with Lucy Collins as both of them get to work to prove their innocence. Everyone at the séance is a murder suspect.

Heading the investigation is Edward’s old buddy Barclay, a fellow vet now high up in the Philadelphia police department. Finn is really expert at creating an entire, populated world, filled with characters who run into each other at the least opportune moment. His narrative proceeds full stop at all times and the 400 pages never felt like too many. They felt like just the right amount to tell and explain Edward’s complicated story.

Finn leaves the reader to sort out for themselves if the mediums and ghosts in the book are the real deal or not. He makes a case both ways, and I love a writer that assumes intelligence on the part of the reader. I loved his two central characters – Edward and Lucy assume equal importance by the end of the book. They were well rounded and comfortably at slight odds with one another. There’s obviously a second book on the way and I can’t wait to read it.