Review: The Witch of Lime Street by David Jaher

If you say the phrase “Victorian seance,” you immediately have my attention. Everything about that period in history, especially the “paranormal” elements, is really rather thewitchoflimestreetfascinating.

The Witch of Lime Street is a venture into the Victorian era when those who could claim to speak with the dead were a dime a dozen, and almost-nondenominational belief in the afterlife exploded alongside technological innovation. In the thick of all this walked magic titan Harry Houdini, who made it his personal mission to find an authentic medium. His road led him to become friends with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who was the mastermind behind Sherlock Holmes, and who also became a leader in the Spiritualist movement.

When I got into the meat of this book, it became obvious that Jaher was attempting to set the trans-Atlantic stage, so to speak. He provides snapshots of the norms of the time and introduces the actors and their motives fairly early on. In large part, he is successful, especially in his portrayal of the Crandon couple and how Mina, wife of Dr. Crandon, was truly a diamond in the rough. (She was a medium who passed a number of rigorous tests, and who did not charge for her services.)

Taking this approach, while theatric, is also the root of the biggest flaw of the first half of this book. With jumping back and forth across the pond, Jaher’s recount of events and their consequences feels disembodied at times. The import of one event on another is lost.

As for Jaher’s writing style, he has a talent for wit and really making the period come alive. This book is one of those must-gets for the Victorian-lover in your family. You get a very interesting look at how things ran parallel across multiple countries.

All that said, I would have to give The Witch of Lime Street a 4 out of 5 stars. The structural choices for the book cut away at odd times, leaving me wondering things like why Houdini and Doyle’s friendship ended, until it was covered a chapter or two later. A better route for this book might have been something like following Houdini’s, then Doyle’s perspective, alternating every other chapter.

Otherwise, this was an enjoyable read that really helped the past come alive.

Note: I was given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

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