The Seance

John Harwood may have won the International Horror Guild Award for his debut novel, The Ghost Writer, but his sophomore effort, The Seance, sets a scene so resolutely gothic, so completely Victorian, it practically envelopes the reader in thick tendrils of an eerie London fog with each turn of the page. Harwood's protagonist, Constance Langton, is literally shrouded -- in a haze of social mores and tragedy. As a middle-class teenager in 1880s England, she cannot expect much else but marriage to relieve her current situation, which is rather desperate. Her mother is wracked with grief over the death of her first child, and her father is distant and cold. With the best intentions to restore her mother's happiness, Constance seeks out a medium to connect with the spirit of her sibling. But navigating the fine line between the real and the spirit world is fraught with peril. It triggers her mother's suicide and the abrupt departure, then death, of her father. Constance narrowly escapes the fate of an impoverished orphan by inheriting a country estate complete with crumbling walls and surrounded by ink-dark woods. Her solicitor instructs her, "Sell the hall unseen, burn it to the ground and plow the earth with salt," but Constance persists in exploring the mysterious manse and the sinister rumors that have circulated around it for generations. At this point, The Seance becomes much more than the sum of its melodramatic parts. For with (or in spite of) a smooth-talking, wax-mustachioed villain, an honorable heroine, and a host of ghost whisperers, Harwood's pitch-perfect dialogue, potent pacing, and skillfully intertwined narratives make for a good, old-fashioned, spine-tingling read. Just be sure to indulge during the light of day.

April 19: "What you see first, after the starting gun's crack, is a column of bobbing runners, thousands of them, surging downhill..."

Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch is the winner of the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. James Parker calls this Dickensian coming-of-age novel "an enveloping…

advertisement
Books, CDs, DVDs to know about now
Poems That Make Grown Men Cry

And women too.  Luminaries from Colin Firth to Nick Cave and Jonathan Franzen chose the poems that bring them to tears, and the result is a stunning collection of poignant verse from writers like Auden, Whitman, Bishop, Larkin, Neruda and many others.  Warning: choking-up hazard.

The King of Pain

Trapped beneath his entertainment system, reality TV mastermind Rick Salter reflects on his life and tries to piece together the events of the previous evening. Seth Kaufman’s romp is an outrageous meditation on pain and entertainment in a deranged world in which the two are often interchangeable.

The Good Inn

Frank Black, frontman for the Pixies, has written a transgressive historical fiction with shades of Thomas Pynchon (focused as it is on the history of explosives and cinematic pornography), all set in a hallucinatory Edwardian Europe.