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The Spiritualist by Megan Chance

The Spiritualist by Megan Chance The Spiritualist by Megan Chance

Sometimes truth is the greatest illusion of all.

In a cold January morning in 1856, Evelyn Atherton’s husband is found murdered after attending an exclusive séance. Having “married up” into New York society, Evie herself is the immediate suspect. Ostracized and vulnerable, she knows that to clear her name she must retrace her husband’s last steps. And so, joining forces with her husband’s best friend–and the only Manhattan lawyer who will accept her case–Evie dives into the mysterious underworld of the occult.

Before long, the trail brings them to a charismatic medium, Michel Jourdain. Evie’s instincts tell her the smooth-talking Jourdain is a charlatan–and her only hope for exoneration. But getting close to Jourdain means embracing a seductive and hypnotic world where clues to murder come through the voices of the dead.

Read more . . .

Caught in a perilous game in which she is equal player and pawn, predator and victim, Evie finds there is no one to trust, perhaps not even herself. As her powerful in-laws build a case against her, and with time running out, Evie must face the real ghosts of her past if she is to have any hope of avoiding the hangman.

Broadway Books; 1st edition (May 27, 2008)

Book Club Party Ideas for The Spiritualist

Spiritualism took hold of many during the Victorian period. Smart mediums knew how to manipulate the grief of their affluent patrons by offering them comfort and contact with a deceased beloved one at hefty price.

Dim the lights and decorate with the soft glow of candles. Hang black crepe over your mirrors and draw the curtains. Any good medium knows that a bright room scares the spirits away. (It also brings the parlour tricks into the light.)

Photo from

Photo from

Photo from

Photo from

To create a creepy atmosphere for your book club party, Midnight Syndicate’s Thirteen Hour is the just the music to fill the bill. This soundtrack will take you and your guests on a tour of an old Victorian mansion where the spirits are restless. After you encounter the Mansion in the Mist, you’ll be taken down a Forgotten Path, Family Secrets will be revealed and The Lost Room discovered.

Midnight Syndicate’s “unique blend of dark orchestral movie-style instrumental music and carefully crafted sound effects make their “soundtracks for the imagination” truly interactive listening experiences, earning them a diverse worldwide following in … gothic music…” (Product Description)

Book Club Menu for The Spiritualist

Peter and Evie dined in their honeymoon bridal suite where Evie was to get “the first taste of the life she would grow accustomed to.” More food than she had ever before seen was presented – “salmon mousseline, stuffed squab, filet de veal, strawberries and cream and wine.”

Salmon Mousseline

Squab, which is young pigeon, is not available where I shop, so according to Cook’s Thesaurus, Cornish game hen can be substituted for squab or vice versa.

Roasted Stuffed Cornish Game Hen

Strawberries and Cream

Strawberry parfait recipe

Along with your favorite wines, if comfortable, include absinthe on your beverage menu.
Absinthe, la Fée Verte “The Green Fairy”, is a controversial anise-flavored liqueur which was very popular in the late 19th-early 20th century. In The Spiritualist, Absinthe is never mentioned by name, but referred to as “a bright green liqueur”, it “glowed a pretty green”. It was enjoyed by Dorothy Bennett and her spirit circle. Absinthe was banned in the United States from 1912 – 2007.
Absinthe Parisienne

Book Club Resources

Click the link below for more information on the spiritualist movement of the Victorian era.
Victorian Spiritualism

Black Maria Police Wagon

Black Maria Police Wagon

Photo of a Black Maria horse-drawn police wagon. Evie was transported to district court in just such a vehicle.

Ratings at the time this post was published

Goodreads: 3.68 stars (804 ratings)
Amazon: 4.2 stars (43 ratings)
LibraryThing: 3.7 stars (11 ratings)
My Rating: 4 stars A page turning erotic murder-mystery about a young heroine who yearns to master her own destiny.

Purchase The Spiritualist by Megan Chance at your favorite bookseller

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  • “Ms. Chance effortlessly portrays New York society at its worst and best of the period and makes it easy for the reader to dive into that world. There’s a temptation to race to the ending of the story but the journey with the characters holds the reader’s interest. With unexpected twists and a startling conclusion, Ms. Chance has written a beautiful novel. I highly recommend it.” — Historical Novel Review
  • “The novel has an almost palpably dark and wintry feel, and it’s not initially clear whether the little group of spiritualists (headed by the charismatic Michel Jourdain) is composed of charlatans or visionaries. As Evelyn pursues her inquiries (where was her husband in the last days before his murder?), she enters a dark underworld that teaches her some shocking truths about his death — and his life. Then she has to find her own way forward, in a way she could never before have imagined.” — Melinda Bargreen, Special to The Seattle Times
  • “Set in the mid-1800s and capturing that era’s fascination with the spirit world, this gripping historical mystery captures both the physical setting of the time and its emotional and psychological underpinnings. Table-tipping, spirit-writing, seances and mediums were the stars of their day. The precarious position of women dependent almost entirely on their fathers and then husbands is clear. A complicated plot and characters make this a book you can’t put down. Chance’s research is complete yet so subtly used that the reader never feels lectured.” — Page Traynor, RT Book Reviews

Recognition for The Spiritualist

Featured alternate selections of:

  • Book of the Month Club
  • Mystery Guild
  • Literary Guild
  • Doubleday Book Club

Discussion Questions for The Spiritualist

Spoiler Alert: Discussion guide may contain spoilers to the book.

1. The opening quotes by Oscar Wilde and Emily Dickinson speak to the issue of truth–Wilde says it’s not pure or simple, and Dickinson notes that one must “tell all the truth, but tell it slant, lest every man be blind.” What do you think the authors mean by those words? How do they apply to The Spiritualist?

2. Do you think that Evelyn was truly speaking to spirits? If so, why? If not, why not?

3. Michel Jourdain is spoken of often as being a charlatan and a manipulator. Do you believe he manipulated Evelyn? How so?

4. To Evelyn, Benjamin Rampling says, “Oh the ways we delude ourselves!” In what ways do the characters in the book delude themselves?

5. Evelyn tells Michel that she was taught that immorality and sin were indications of a weak will. Do you believe that is true? Why or why not? How do the characters in the book either support or contradict her statement?
Read more . . .

6. When Michel tells Evelyn that women’s intellect is God given, and therefore meant to be developed, he is contradicting common 19th century thought, which believed that women were ruled by their reproductive systems, and therefore any creative or intellectual pursuit might result in illness, deformity or degenerate offspring. Do you think this statement influenced Evelyn to make the decisions she makes? Why or why not? Do you believe this prejudice against women’s intellectualism exists in the world today?

7. Characters in the book refer often to the idea of the seen/unseen world. Evelyn says that to make one’s peace with partial truths is the only possibility for happiness, because we are not meant to understand the whole. Michel says to not understand the whole is to not understand the truth. The believers in the spirit circle believe that instinct and intuition are as valid–perhaps even more valid–than empirical experience. How does Evelyn come to terms with these philosophies? Which of them do you believe is most true?

8. How do Evelyn’s beliefs and upbringing contribute to her partnership with Michel? Michel says to her, “I’d feel sorry for you, chére, if your situation weren’t so much your own doing. All that ambition and faculty, and no idea what to do.” Do you agree with him? Disagree? In what ways do you feel that Evelyn is the architect of her own situation?

9. Do you think Ben truly felt sympathy and affection for Evelyn? Or was he simply manipulating her? Why or why not?

10. Michel says that calling something lunacy is a only a way to explain the things we don’t understand. How is that still true today? What else might be a “fact of nature not yet discovered.” Science played a big part in defining cultural beliefs in the 19th century. Do you think it does so today? In what ways?

11. Do you feel Michel is right when he speaks of immorality being an artificial construct used by society to control its members? Do you feel he was immoral in his relationship with Adele? With Dorothy? With Evelyn? In what ways were the other characters in the book immoral? Are there degrees of immorality? If so, how did Evelyn and Dorothy’s immorality measure up to Michel’s? How did Benjamin’s? Peter’s? Adele’s? The Atherton family?

12. Do you feel Dorothy was an equal in her relationship with Michel? With Evelyn? In what ways was she as much a manipulator as Michel was? In what ways was Evelyn??

13. The willingness to believe, and people’s blindness to their own natures, play a big part in the denouement of the story. Do you think this willingness to believe is an asset or a flaw in human nature? Why or why not?

14. In the 19th century, sodomy was often punishable by law. The idea of homosexuality as something other than a degenerate and immoral sexual urge was unknown. Had Peter been exposed, he would have been destroyed socially. Given this, do you believe Peter Atherton was justified in his actions? Michel tells Evelyn that Peter resented her and even hated her, and that his will was meant to cause her trouble as a form of punishment. Do you believe you believe were Peter’s motivations in leaving such a will, and how do you think he truly felt about Evelyn?

15. What do you think of the ending? Do you think Evelyn made the right decision in casting her lot with Michel? Do you think they have a future together? What kind of future do you think it will be?

(Discussion Questions from website of Megan Chance)

The Author

Megan Chance has penned several highly acclaimed novels. The former TV news photographer resides in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and two daughters.

Visit the Megan Chance website

Other Works by Megan Chance and Recommended Reading

Prima Donna by Megan Chance Captivity by Deborah Noyes

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