Book Review: The Blackheath Seance Parlour by: Alan Williams

Rating: 4/5

Publisher: Cutting Edge Press

Publication Date: October 1, 2013

Origins:  From Cutting Edge Press for Review

Book Links:  Amazon / Barnes & Noble

Synopsis: Two sisters dabble in the dark arts in Victorian London in this tale featuring  murder, vampires, malevolent spirits, and a life-size chocolate gorilla. For fans of the classics—Holmes, Dickens, and Abfab.

In 1842, two drunken sisters debate their future. Business at the family chocolate shop has ground to a halt, and change is needed. For once, domineering elder sister Maggie doesn't get her way, and a month later Judy, Maggie, and Netta Walters—a medium with big hair and a bigger secret—open their séance parlor. The locals are shocked, but soon the shop is crammed with people wanting to contact the dead. Despite their change in fortune, a rift grows between the sisters, as Judy gets her gothic novel published, finds a man, and proves to be more capable of contacting spirits than Maggie, who can only read tea leaves. Spurred on by jealousy, Maggie tries harder, and soon her talents surpass those of her smug sister. She fills halls with folk wishing to witness her powers, and is even consulted by the Queen. As word spreads, the Church decides that Maggie must be stopped, and Maggie is tricked into a carriage—destination Bedlam Hospital. She then has to choose between publicly declaring herself a fake and returning to obscurity, or being incarcerated forever with the insane.

Review: Judy and Maggie Cloak own a shop in Blackheath which has been passed down through generations of their family. This time it’s a chocolate shop, but they’re losing money hand over fist. Meanwhile, there is a murderer loose on the moors of Blackheath and spiritualism is on the rise. Judy finds Netta Walters; a medium with her own checkered past, and talks Maggie into changing the chocolate shop into a séance parlor. With Netta as the medium and Judy reading tarot, Maggie is stuck reading tea leaves. Yet her irrational and insatiable jealousy pushes Maggie to develop her skills and surpass them both. Judy is having a wonderful time – the shop is generating money, she finds a wonderful man, and even publishes a serial novel – as Maggie spirals further into madness. Will Maggie’s fervor allow her to recant her abilities publicly or will she end up locked away in a mental ward forever?

THE BLACKHEATH SÉANCE PARLOUR is a fascinating story within a story. We get Maggie & Judy’s ongoing everyday life interspersed with chapters from Judy’s serial gothic novel. I was intrigued by the dichotomy of the sisters – Judy is more lighthearted and optimistic while Maggie is sour and fueled by jealous hatred of her sister. I loved the detail in the author’s descriptions of the people and Blackheath itself, it really made the story come to life. You could almost feel the staticky heaviness of the lightning during the storms over the moor. I found myself feeling sorry for Judy and Maggie, both. Judy for having a sister who hated her so much and Maggie for letting something small fester until it grew to astounding proportions. THE BLACKHEATH SÉANCE PARLOUR will entice lovers of gothic tales into its sticky web.

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  1. I love the title and then the chocolate gorilla. I may have no choice but to pick this one up.


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