Conversations with Spirits by E.O. Higgins
The Great War is rampaging through Europe – yet Trelawney Hart has scarcely noticed. The arch-sceptic and former child prodigy has lost his way, and now ekes out a lonely existence, taking his only comfort from the bottle.
Hart’s dissolute lifestyle is interrupted, however, when spiritualist crusader and celebrated author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle arrives at the door of his London club and requests his help in investigating a man he believes to be a psychic medium of unparalleled gift.
Driven on by his anticipation of exposing the psychic as a fraud, Hart accepts. But it is not long before he finds himself helpless amidst a series of seemingly inexplicable events – and he is forced to consider whether there may be much more to life than he had ever thought possible… (via Goodreads)
Trelawney Hart is an alcoholic. Much of the plot of Conversations with Spirits is involved with the obstacles this places in Hart’s way. In fact, about 10-15% of the book is Hart traveling from London to Boardstairs, a rather long, drunken side-adventure. For a while, I kind of wondered what Higgins was up to here because the book gets a little slow. He is setting up a very important relationship, but I’m not sure it totally pays off…in this book. Hart’s an interesting character in an interesting situation and I feel like we’ve only just gotten a taste of adventures to come.
I believe this is the third book I read this year with Arthur Conan Doyle as a character. He’s a minor character here, but Higgin’s version of the writer is the best of them. Doyle is intelligent, but wreaked in his way. Spiritualism is the answer he’s found to keep his world intact. Hart could be a Holmes-type character, but he’s more real and more flawed than the stereotypical Sherlock. His deductive powers are not supernatural, and while he’s still arrogant, there are gaping holes in his ability to take care of himself.
The body of knowledge that Hart uses for debunking pulls heavily from stage magic and Higgins does a good job with the techniques. Well, aside from a character mentioning seeing “sawing a woman in half” which really won’t become a thing for another four or five years*. The method the physic medium uses to walk through a brick wall is also fairly modern, I believe, but the event is meant to be singular.
All in all, I’d definitely read a second Trelawney Hart book if one were available. High praise from me, someone who doesn’t read series.
*Anachronistic magic tricks have become a pet peeve of mine. Right now there are two recent/upcoming historical novels with tricks at their heart that didn’t really exist in their period setting.
Publishing info, my copy: Unbound, March 11th 2014, Kindle edition
Genre: Historical fiction