John Harwood’s The Séance combines all the great elements of a classic Victorian ghost story: Dilapidated mansions, noises in the walls, flickers of candlelight in a darkened window, and a fog rolling in across a menacing landscape—all the workings for a good scary read.
The Séance is told from the perspectives of three different characters. We are introduced to Constance Langton, a young woman who is desperately trying to find out more about her identity and where she comes from. She dabbles in séances to help her adoptive mother communicate with her younger sister who has passed away. Constance is unsuccessful in these endeavors and has to struggle with the guilt and sadness of an unfortunate tragedy shortly thereafter.
Constance soon meets an interesting stranger, John Montague, who informs her that she has inherited the Wraxford estate through a blood relative she has never heard of or met. The Séance leaves the story of Constance at this point and delves into the past with the strange history of the Wraxford Family that is filled with mysterious deaths and disappearances. Wraxford Hall lies right at the center of Monks’ Wood, a dark, gloomy place that is inhabited by the ghost of a monk, or so the locals believe.
Nell Wraxford, the other main character of the story, is cursed with visions of seeing the ghosts of people before they pass on. The reader is never exactly sure if what she is experiencing or seeing is real or imaginary. Nell marries Magnus Wraxford and there is always a sense of foreboding whenever he enters the story.
There is a connection between Nell and Constance but what that connection is, or how deep it goes, is not revealed until the very end. The stories of both women intertwine because they are similar in many ways; Nell and Constance both want happiness in life but are never able to find that fulfillment.
A storyline that runs throughout The Séance deals with lightning, a suit of armor and the disappearances that keep occurring on the Wraxford Estate. I never quite believed the explanation or really understood it, but I have to admit that it was an interesting theory.
The Whitecastle murders (Jack the Ripper) are occurring during the same time that the story of Magnus and Nell Wraxford unfolds, thus creating a more ominous feeling for the reader. The author only mentions the murders a few times, but it is enough to give the reader goose bumps. The reader never finds out exactly what is happening and whether the Wraxford mansion is inhabited by the ghost of old Cornelius Wraxford, or the monk in the woods, or if it is Magnus Wraxford trying to drive Nell into madness.
The Séance is a good book for one to read curled up in front of the fireplace on a winter’s night.