Saturday, January 3, 2015

Review: Things Half in Shadow by Alan Finn

Things Half in Shadow
by Alan Finn
Release Date: December 30th, 2014
2014 Gallery Books
Ebook Edition; 448 Pages
ISBN: 978-1476761725
Genre: Fiction / Historical
Source: Review copy from publisher

5 / 5 Stars

The year is 1869, and the Civil War haunts the city of Philadelphia like a stubborn ghost. Mothers in black continue to mourn their lost sons. Photographs of the dead adorn dim sitting rooms. Maimed and broken men roam the streets. One of those men is Edward Clark, who is still tormented by what he saw during the war. Also constantly in his thoughts is another, more distant tragedy--the murder of his mother at the hands of his father, the famed magician Magellan Holmes...a crime that Edward witnessed when he was only ten. 

Now a crime reporter for one of the city's largest newspapers, Edward is asked to use his knowledge of illusions and visual trickery to expose the influx of mediums that descended on Philadelphia in the wake of the war. His first target is Mrs. Lucy Collins, a young widow who uses old-fashioned sleight of hand to prey on grieving families. Soon, Edward and Lucy become entwined in the murder of Lenora Grimes Pastor, the city's most highly regarded--and by all accounts, legitimate--medium, who dies mid-seance. With their reputations and livelihoods at risk, Edward and Lucy set out to find the real killer, and in the process unearth a terrifying hive of secrets that reaches well beyond Mrs. Pastor. 

My Thoughts
Things Half in Shadow was a captivating tale, taking place in Philadelphia several years after the American Civil War.  I mention the Civil War because so much of it permeated the atmosphere of this novel, and drove the growth of mediums who were often accused of using sleight of hand and illusions to rob families that were grieving.  There was a real development in the interest of the supernatural and whether it was real or not, occupying a large part of many discussions during social visits.  

When we first meet Edward Clark, it is from the future, as he is enticed by his granddaughter to write down his ghostly tales and adventures from his youth, so you already know that he survived, and married, and had children.  All this did was entice and intrigue me as well and I was pretty much captivated from that point; I had a pretty hard time putting down this novel.  Written in the first person, I found myself empathizing with Edward and really felt like I was there.  I was able to share in all of his emotions as well as view Philadelphia from his viewpoint and I liked that a lot.  The author is very skilful as I found myself liking what Edward liked and disliking what Edward disliked; once I realized what was happening, I had to distance myself a little bit in order to take stock of what was really happening, and think about the suspects, and it was only when stepped back that I was able to figure out who the murderer was.  Like I said, it was very skilfully done, and I was very appreciative of the author's writing ability.  

I really enjoyed the character of Edward, but I will truthfully admit that it was Lucy Collins I adored.  Edward was everything I could wish in a character; he was brave, funny, awkward, dashing (when warranted), nice, and conflicted.  He is one of those wealthy men who prefers comfort over show, likes to work rather than be idle (he works as a crime-reporter), and associates with people others (as in a future father-in-law) would deem unacceptable.  Lucy, however, is one of those characters whom I despised at the beginning, but absolutely adored towards the end.  She has this way of growing on you, despite her sharp edges, and I found myself rooting for her and hoping things would turn out the way I wished.  Because of her, the author was able to slide in some issues and themes during this time period such as spousal and child abuse and women's rights which made me compare our societies quite a bit.  There was also some discussion around education and a woman's dependance on her husband, both socially and financially, especially when things go wrong.  

Things Half in Shadow was much more than I expected, and the only disappointment I had (which is not really a disappointment, only for the waiting period) is discovering I have to wait for a sequel to discover more about the adventures of Edward and Lucy.  This novel had everything I could want: intrigue, secrets, murder, mystery, and so on.  There was even a bit of the paranormal for those of you who enjoy that aspect.  Mr. Finn has a writing style that grabs you and makes you feel part of the story, makes you feel like you are in 1869, with excellent research and the inclusion of historical figures such as P.T. Barnum.  Definitely an author I am looking forward to reading more from in the future.