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Saturday 16 March 2024

‘A Body at the Séance’ by Marty Wingate

Published by Bookouture,
8 January 2024.
ISBN: 978-1-83790-958-2

The story is set in November 1921 and Mabel Canning has moved to London to assert her independence by working for the Useful Women Agency. This agency aims to find women willing to undertake any respectable task that the ladies that hire them are willing to pay for and this evening offers the most unusual assignment that Mabel has experienced.

Mrs Ivy Plomley has employed Mabel to accompany her to a séance in which she hopes to contact her late husband, Stamford, who died in a fire that completely destroyed his work shed some nine months previously. Before Mr Plomley’s death, he and his wife had attended a spiritual evening held by the medium who is holding the séance, the improbably named Madame Pushkana, and Mrs Plomley has reason to believe that she will receive a message from Mr Plomley’s spirit. Mabel is impressed by the size and elegance of Madame Pushkana’s house and thinks that, if it indeed belongs to her, she must be running a very profitable business. As a practical-minded person Mabel is sceptical about the authenticity of the séance she is about to attend but it she is excited at being present at an experience similar to those advocated by the famous author Arthur Conan Doyle.

Mabel is uneasy when she realises that all of her fellow guests know Madame Pushkana and each other well and she thinks that she can work out how most of the medium’s effects have been achieved. However, things change when the medium calls on Stamford Plomley and, when he answers, it sounds as if he is actually present in the room, which is unlike the earlier exchanges with Madame Pushkana’s spirit guide. Ivy and Stamford Plomley ignore Madame Pushkana’s attempts to interrupt their conversation but suddenly the chandelier above them rocks violently and a flash of intense light blinds Mabel and presumably all of the other participants and then  the room plunges into darkness.

When the light is restored, and with it some semblance of order, Madame Pushkana is discovered unconscious on a pile of curtains that have been pulled down. The medium is lifted up by her solicitous followers and Mabel discovers a body beneath the curtains. It is Stamford Plomley and it is evident that, rather than having died several months ago, he has been strangled within the last few minutes by somebody using a curtain tie.

It seems that the other guests, apart from Mrs Plomley and the butler, Perkins, are too preoccupied by fussing over the unconscious medium to notice Stamford Plomley’s corpse, so Mabel has to take charge. She orders Perkins to send for Detective Inspector Tollerton, a police officer that she encountered when she was involved in an earlier murder case. Although Mabel has done her duty in summoning the police, she cannot quell her curiosity regarding this extraordinary murder and cannot resist investigating. Although she thinks that Madame Pushkana has used tricks to manipulate her in an attempt to convince Mabel of her psychic abilities, Mabel is not convinced that she is guilty of murder, and she likes Perkins and hopes that he is also innocent. However, there are several more suspects for her to consider and she is determined to look into the background of all of the medium’s guests. Also, she cannot ignore the suspicious behaviour of her client and knows that Mrs Plomley has not been honest about what she has told Mabel.

With so many suspects, none of whom she can trust, Mabel is grateful to have her usual allies who live in the same block of flats. Two of these are Cora Portjoy, whose work in a hat shop means that she is expert in creating clever disguises, and Skeff, an investigative journalist. Mabel’s third helper is Park Winstone, an ex-police detective with whom she is developing a close relationship. At the moment Park is working in Paris and, however often Mabel tells herself that she is an independent woman, she really longs for his support in coping with this difficult investigation.

Fortunately, Park soon returns and immediately sets to work helping Mabel as she probes into the background and motives of all of the people who were present at the séance. Madame Pushkana schedules another spiritual evening, which all of her followers attend. Mabel is determined to be present too, but danger still surrounds the medium and other lives are in danger, including Mabel’s own life.

A Body at the Séance is the second book in the series featuring Mabel Canning. It has an interesting plot and warm and engaging characters who are developing in fascinating ways as the series continues. This is an excellent addition to a delightful series.
Reviewer: Carol Westron

Marty Wingate is a Seattle-based author and speaker about gardens and travel. She is the author of The Garden Plot, first in the Potting Shed mystery series. There are now 7 books in the series. Marty’s garden articles appear in a variety of publications, including Fine Gardening, American Gardener, Country Gardens, and Gardening How-to. You can hear her on the podcast A Dry Rain, available free from iTunes. She leads garden tours to European and North American. The Bodies in the Library, published 9 October 2019 is the first in her new series.

Carol Westron is a successful author and a Creative Writing teacher.  Her crime novels are set both in contemporary and Victorian times.  Her first book The Terminal Velocity of Cats was published in 2013. Since then, she has since written 8 further mysteries. Carol recently gave an interview to Mystery People. interview
To read a review of Carol latest book click on the title
Death and the Dancing Snowman

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