- Publication Date: October 6, 2015
- Non-fiction, historical, biographical, paranormal
- Warnings: A lot of names thrown at you so it can kind of get confusing if you haven’t already heard of them or know some of their history.
“The 1920s are famous as the golden age of jazz and glamour, but it was also an era of fevered yearning for communion with the spirit world, after the loss of tens of millions in the First World War and the Spanish-flu epidemic. A desperate search for reunion with dead loved ones precipitated a tidal wave of self-proclaimed psychics—and, as reputable media sought stories on occult phenomena, mediums became celebrities.
Against this backdrop, in 1924, the pretty wife of a distinguished Boston surgeon came to embody the raging national debate over Spiritualism, a movement devoted to communication with the dead. Reporters dubbed her the blonde Witch of Lime Street, but she was known to her followers simply as Margery. Her most vocal advocate was none other than Sherlock Holmes’ creator Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who believed so thoroughly in Margery’s powers that he urged her to enter a controversial contest, sponsored by Scientific American and offering a large cash prize to the first medium declared authentic by its impressive five-man investigative committee. Admired for both her exceptional charm and her dazzling effects, Margery was the best hope for the psychic practice to be empirically verified. Her supernatural gifts beguiled four of the judges. There was only one left to convince…the acclaimed escape artist, Harry Houdini.
David Jaher’s extraordinary debut culminates in the showdown between Houdini, a relentless unmasker of charlatans, and Margery, the nation’s most credible spirit medium. The Witch of Lime Street, the first book to capture their electric public rivalry and the competition that brought them into each other’s orbit, returns us to an oft-mythologized era to deepen our understanding of its history, all while igniting our imagination and engaging with the timeless question: Is there life after death?”
I’ve always liked history. I especially like history that is presented in a way that makes me feel like I’m part of the story, not the detached reading you get with a standard history textbook. When I saw The Witch of Lime Street I got excited. A historical book with a bit of drama and intrigue. Plus, who doesn’t love the lock picking, stunt defying Harry Houdini?
Let’s start with the good. David Jaher definitely picked an interesting time and topic in history to write on. Culturally, the 20s are my favorite time period in American history so that was an instant plus for me and there seems to be a large source of inspiration from this time period to write on. I mean, I didn’t know that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the author of Sherlock Holmes, was into seances and mediums or that Harry Houdini started off the earlier part of his career pretending to be a medium. What I love about these type of books is that it doesn’t feel like you’re reading about long dead old guys but actual real people. Isn’t it strange that many times when we’re reading books it’s the characters who are fictional who seem more real? The Witch of Lime Street and other similar books do a good job of bringing back to life these people separated from us by time.
The problem with writing a book that is actually historical instead of historical-fiction is that sometimes it does feel like you’re being hit over the head with facts, especially if it’s not totally apparent how it relates to the rest of the story. At the beginning I definitely felt like I was swimming in a sea of names, circumstances, and time frames without a smooth transition from one chapter to another. One moment we were talking about Sir Arthur and how he first began his interest into mediums and then to Houdini being from a poor family to Margery to someone else’s dead child to…and so on and so on. I understand that a lot of this information was important in showing what led each person to do what they did but many times it just got confusing.
Overall, I liked overall the parts that Jaher successfully weaved together and the undoubtedly extensive amount of research that had to be done to create a story about this. The book is filled with surprises and puts famous names (and some not so famous names) in a completely new light for the reader. I would recommend anyone who likes viewing history through a different lens to give this a try and for fans of Houdini as well.
I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.
What do you guys think? Have you read The Witch of Lime Street already? Have any other book suggestions that I should add to my Saturday Reading List? Leave your thoughts behind in the comments. Just be respectful please.