The Séance by John Harwood: Review

IMG_1155After the death of her youngest daughter, Constance's mother falls into a deep depression which lasts about 16 years. Constance's dad up and leaves them with a "don't call me, I won't call you." So, Constance thinks the only way to get her mother out of her funk is to take her to a séance. And it works, briefly, until her mother leaves this earthly realm herself. Later, Constance finds out that she's the proud, new owner of a dilapidated old castle. Said castle was the setting for many weird doings and disappearances.

Constance isn't sure what she's going to do, and gets freaked out when the family lawyer leads their conversation with a: "You look like heeeeeeeer!" After which he dumps a bunch of old diaries in her lap. The diaries make up much of the narrative, which tells of ghostly encounters, electrical experiments, and mesmerism. Constance is convinced that the author of the diaries, Eleanor, is her real mother and sets out to find out what happened to the poor lady. And you know it's going to involve a séance.

The Séance had a lot of potential. The set up was fabulous. An old house? Check. A damsel in distress? Check. A sketchy dude with creepy eyes? Check. It was as gothic as I could ever hope. Wilkie Collins-esque. There was even the threat of the insane asylum. How could this go wrong? Well, Harwood cops out at the end. The explanations didn't sit well with me. Some important events are just brushed off. And the Séance? It's not even a major part of the story. How can the book be titled after this event? This could have been a full on Vincent Price B movie but it just turns into a episode of Scooby-Doo. In the words of Hall and Oates, I can't go for that. No can do.

There were times that I forgot I was reading a modern novel told in the 19th century style, then someone would drop a bit of science into the conversation and I'd remember. I have to give Harwood props for this. It's as close to a traditional gothic novel as you're going to get. One improvement, however, is the addition of a heroine who has a brain. Yay, for heroines who can hold their own! Even if that heroine does something questionable because she has a hunch. That was some risky business.

fist bump cat

In the end, I had mixed feelings about The Séance. I'd give it points for atmosphere but take some away for the denouement. 


  1. I read The Asylum not too long ago and had some trouble with it so I am not sure about this one. Although, I think this one got better reviews overall.

  2. That's too bad it didn't live up to expectations. I really enjoyed his other gothic, The Asylum.

  3. This probably isn't for me anyway - I'm a chicken.

  4. This sounds like a Barbara Michaels novel! Kinda bummed it wasn't better.

  5. Gah! The cop out, damnit! I still might want to try this one, but I'll go in with tempered expectations.

  6. Just found this review.. I enjoyed it but it wasn't a "great" book. Have you read his first novel, The Ghost Writer? One of the strangest, creepiest books I have ever read and I don't think I understood it totally. I would love to find someone else who's read it to discuss the ending with it, frankly, because it still puzzles me. Maybe I should re-read it.

    1. No, I haven't but I'll have a look for it in the future when I want something weird.


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