If you like fiction featuring spiritualists and their brethren, then you’re in for a treat, as 2023 has brought a host of new crime novels exploring ghostly visitations and otherworldly knowledge. Some of the books below feature straight-up con artists, using the cards or a seance or two as a means to an end, while others truly believe in their own connections to the spirit world. Most of the following titles are historical fiction, clustered during the late 19th century and early 20th, but some are contemporary, speaking to both a current surge of interest in spiritualism and the tragic historical circumstances that tend to serve as a prelude for wanting to contact ghosts or read one’s future in the cards. Without death, there are no ghosts; without uncertainty, there are no futures in the cards. Without a need for comfort (and/or the ensuing risk for exploitation) these titles would not exist, or at least, certainly not be so compelling.
Laura Shepherd-Robinson, The Square of Sevens
In this lush gothic, a young girl who knows the art of predicting fortunes becomes ward to a kind intellectual, who raises her in safety and anonymity in 18th-century Bath. As she grows into a poised young woman, she finds herself increasingly curious about her fairy-tale origins, in which her fortune-teller father ran away with her aristocratic mother. When a chance comes to know more of her history, she takes it, even as a larger conspiracy threatens her found family.
Anbara Salam, Hazardous Spirits
In this fascinating portrait of spiritualism, identity, and doubt, a young wife becomes concerned with her husband develops a focused interest in becoming a spiritual medium. Is he a fraud? Does he believe his own words? Can they preserve their place in societal hierarchy with his new-found love of a looked-down-upon profession? And how far will her love carry her along in his journey? Salam has an incredible grasp on historical details, attitudes, and mores, for a carefully wrought and emotionally compelling read. The short length of the novel belies its complexity and depth, and I hope Anbara Salam continues to craft historical novels for a long time to come.
Lucy Barker, The Other Side of Mrs. Wood
Move over, The Prestige—there’s a new Victorian-Era rivalry in town. When the most popular medium in London starts to worry about her audience getting bored, she hires a new apprentice. Unfortunately, the young woman so takes to her new profession that she begins to outshine her mentor, and a deadly, delightful game ensues.
Sarah Penner, The London Seance Society
(Park Row Books)
Bestselling author Sarah Penner’s book is a canny romp through the Victorian zeitgeist that cemented Conan Doyle’s interests in spiritualism, a world in which science and rationalism clashed with spectacle and illusion and all of those things clashed with a preoccupation with ghosts and the occult. Anyway, it’s about a famed spiritualist and a non-believer who wind up joining forces to solve a murder… and then find themselves embroiled in a crime. Tell me you yourself wouldn’t run through quicksand to acquire this book, and I won’t believe you. –OR
Rachel Kapelke-Dale, The Fortune Seller
(St Martin’s, forthcoming in February 2024)
This book combines so many things I enjoy….Really, just horse girls and tarot readers, but who doesn’t want to read about horse girls and fortune tellers? In Kapelke-Dale’s delightful forthcoming novel, the elite members of Yale’s equestrian team welcome a new girl into their midst, one who comes with impeccable riding skills and a surprising talent for tarot. Not everyone is as happy with her presence, or her fortunes, as the narrator, and soon enough, murder and sabotage mar the collegiate halcyon days of the privileged characters (such a pity…). This book also fulfills my theory that people at Ivies are way too burned out from trying to get in to enjoy their time there. So glad I went to a state school (Hook ‘Em.)
Carmella Lowkis, Spitting Gold
(Atria, forthcoming in May 2024)
Another Atria title on the list! And another one concerned with mystical frauds—this time, two spiritualist sisters, famed in their teen years for their convincing seances, held in the most prestigious salons and parlors of Paris. The elder sister must be coaxed out of her comfortable retirement married to a baron so the two can pull off one last con, but all is not what it seems in this lush and twist-filled tale. Spitting Gold is carefully plotted, fully characterized, and incredibly satisfying, so I must apologize to all for telling you how great it is so many months before you can actually read it.