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A Barnes & Noble Recommends Selection
Winner of the2008Aurealis Award for best horror novel
A haunting tale of apparitions, a cursed manor house, and two generations of women determined to discover the truth, by the author of The Ghost Writer
Sell the Hall unseen; burn it to the ground and plow the earth with salt, if you will; but never live there…
Constance Langton grows up in a household marked by death, her father distant, her mother in perpetual mourning for Constance’s sister, the child she lost. Desperate to coax her mother back to health, Constance takes her to a séance; perhaps she will find comfort from beyond the grave. But the meeting has tragic consequences. Constance is left alone, her only legacy a mysterious bequest that will blight her life.
So begins this brilliant and gripping novel, a dark mystery set in late-Victorian England. It is a world of apparitions, of disappearances and unnatural phenomena, of betrayal and blackmail and black-hearted villains—and of murder. Constance’s bequest comes in two parts: a house and a mystery. Years before, a family disappeared at Wraxford Hall, a decaying mansion in the English countryside with a sinister reputation. Now the Hall belongs to Constance, and she must descend into the darkness at the heart of the Wraxford mystery to find the truth—even at the cost of her life.
“Many of the creepy late Victorian familiars abound in The Séance: the dark woods of the English countryside, the ruined mansion with secret passages and hidden chambers and fog on the moors. There’s even a sarcophagus in a dead fireplace, a tricked-out suit of armor and some apparatus for collecting electricity when lightning strikes. Drafts blow out candles at the most inopportune times. The literary conventions of the Victorian suspense novel are present as well: the nested narratives that arrive in mysterious packets, abandoned diaries and even a family tree—complete with married cousins. Australian John Harwood, whose Ghost Writer won an International Horror Award in 2004, writes with Poe and Dickens peering over his shoulders, shaking their wizened heads perhaps over one modern twist: the strongest characters in The Séance are two women of action…The two stories—Constance’s and Eleanor’s—mesh in the thrilling conclusion…Indeed, the ways in which Harwood plays with the conventions of the form provide the main source of delight.”
Washington Post Book World
“Elegant…The Seance captures the particular flavor of desperate morbidity typical of the Victorians…The other side of Victorian sentimentality and melancholy was, of course, its ruthless opportunism; the middle and upper classes wallowed in sentimental bathos about dead children while blithely enjoying the products of child labor…At the heart of every effective ghost story lies some pitiless truth.”
“This crackerjack Victorian thriller has all the elements of a classic ghost story…The Australian writer’s narrative is seamless; despite the supernatural underpinnings of his story, the reader willingly suspends disbelief. And Harwood understands that the true horror of The Seance lies in the prison Victorian society created for young women without money or prospects. Modern readers will hold their breath until the last minute, hoping that Harwood’s estimable heroines escape the clutches of a dreadful fate.”
“A superbly realized Victorian setting…Harwood has an unerring feel for the mores and language of late-Victorian England.”
“Set in Victorian England, Harwood’s spellbinding second novel pays homage to such nineteenth-century suspense masters as Wilkie Collins and Sheridan Le Fanu…Harwood invokes the hoariest clichés of supernatural suspense, from stormy nights to haunted houses, and effortlessly makes them his own. The novel’s voice, too, is superbly crafted, accurate for the period but never self-consciously antique.”
“A first-class Victorian thriller…Harwood, who has been compared to Wilkie Collins, has crafted a fast-paced ghost story with an old-fashioned touch. Recommended for all public libraries.”
“Typically Victorian in its emphasis on spiritualism, madness, and mesmerism, this is a tale of creeping dread and subtle evil…What makes Harwood’s writing special…is his ability to weave stories from different time periods and a cast of well-drawn characters into a believable, well-integrated whole. A fascinating historical portrait and a frightening tale that will generate suspicions of trapdoors and bodies in the attic.”