Saturday, February 11, 2012

Uneasy Spirits by M. Louisa Locke

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Obtained from: Kindle Loan
Read: Feb. 11, 2012 

In Uneasy Spirits, the sequel to Maids of Misfortune, It’s the fall of 1879 and Annie Fuller, a young San Francisco widow, has a problem. Despite her growing financial success as the clairvoyant Madam Sibyl, Annie doesn’t believe in the astrology and palmistry her clients think are the basis for the domestic and business advice she dispenses, which is making her feel increasingly uncomfortable. Kathleen Hennessey, Annie Fuller’s young Irish maid, has a plan. When her mistress is asked by one of the people in Annie’s boarding house to investigate and expose a fraudulent trance medium, Arabella Frampton, Kathleen is determined to assist in this investigation, just like the Pinkerton detectives she has read about in the dime novels. Nate Dawson, the up-and-coming San Francisco lawyer, has a dilemma. He wants to marry the unconventional Annie Fuller, but he doesn’t feel he can reveal his true feelings until he has figured out a way to make enough money to support her. In Uneasy Spirits, this light, romantic follow-up to Locke’s debut historical mystery, Maids of Misfortune, Annie Fuller, with the help of Nate Dawson and Kathleen Hennessey, delves into the intriguing world of 19th century spiritualism, encountering true believers and naïve dupes, clever frauds and unexplained supernatural phenomena, soon finding there are as many secrets as there are spirits swirling around the Frampton séance table. These secrets will threaten the foundation of her career as Madam Sibyl, the future of her relationship with Nate Dawson, and, in time, they will threaten her very life itself.

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Dandy Detects was an entertaining short but it was Maids of Misfortune that captured my attention and piqued my interest in Uneasy Spirits. I looked forward to the book for months and now, after reading the book, I find I have very mixed feelings. 

I obviously enjoyed the book. A four star rating isn’t exactly a finger in the eye but I found that while I appreciated the piece, many of my pre-read expectations were only moderately satisfied. Dandy Detects was cute and I was so absorbed by Maids of Misfortune that I hardly found time to put it down. I expected the same humor and captivating storytelling in the newest installment of the Victorian San Francisco Mystery series. I didn’t find it. I had absolutely no problem setting this book on my side table, consuming it in small doses over the course of eleven days. 

I hope I haven’t scared anyone away from Uneasy Spirits by that admission. I am not implying that the sequel is of poorer quality, just that I found the reading experience differed dramatically novel to novel. In terms of content, the book is no less interesting or engaging than its predecessors. For instance I found that Annie’s struggle over the morality of her occupation offered fascinating insight to her character while keeping the character fresh and new for those already familiar with the boarding house matron. 

Kathleen was by far my favorite character to read. For much of book, her scenes offered the most movement in terms of plot but she is also the individual most desperate to achieve something against the mystery at the center of the novel. Where Nate is struggling with his feelings for Annie and Annie is having reservations regarding Madame Sibyl, Kathleen is determined to prove herself useful and worthy of the trust her mistress places in her. 

It is my opinion there are two particularly noteworthy aspects to the novel.  The intricacies of Evie May’s story are truly astounding and will hold the imagination long after the final page. I also found Locke’s foray into the late nineteenth century obsession with spiritualism wonderfully illustrated and entertaining. Madame Sibyl’s work as a palm reader and astrologer are relatively tame compared to the elaborate shows invented by those claiming contact with the other side. I found I quite liked the chance to explore the more dramatic side of Annie’s trade.  

The richly imagined recreation of Victorian era San Francisco offers a delightful backdrop for Locke's indomitable heroine. Once again, I applaud Ms. Locke's work. A must read for anyone who appreciates cozy historical mysteries.  

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The girl straightened and pointed, her index finger contorted in a grotesque fashion. “You stop it right now.” Her voice, despite a quaver, was sharp and strong, and its force twisted her face into a mask of fury. “I see what you did. I see everything. You can never hide from me . . . stop . . .” The girl clutched at her chest, and the beads broke, cascading to the floor.
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