Thursday, December 21, 2017

Whispers of Warning by Jessica Estevao, a spiritualist mystery set in turn-of-the-century Maine

It’s the turn of the 20th century, and the resort town of Old Orchard Beach, Maine, expects a busy season. Large crowds gather for a suffrage rally, plus everyone awaits the opening of a lengthy pier designed to entice tourists.

This second novel in the A Change of Fortune series finds former con artist Ruby Proulx enjoying her new life in town at her Aunt Honoria’s spiritualist-themed Hotel Belden and learning to heed her clairaudient abilities. The arrival of nationally-known psychic and suffragist Sophronia Foster Eldridge draws new business to the hotel while alarming townspeople. After the lady makes a public announcement at the rally, promising to expose corruption among those in power, it’s a sure sign that trouble’s ahead.

This is a mystery, so fans of the genre can infer that Sophronia’s days are numbered. However, the plot is rather dilatory in getting there. There are a host of unconventional characters staying at the Belden, including opinionated cook/housekeeper Mrs. Doyle, who can detect people’s auras; the obnoxious brother and sister-in-law of Honoria’s devoted suitor; and an author belonging to an elite group of hay fever sufferers (this society, fascinatingly enough, is based on historical fact). Also visiting town is an anti-suffrage politician who was once engaged to Sophronia.

Reading about these backstories is interesting, but suspense is lacking early on. Once Sophronia’s body is discovered in a saltwater pool, the pacing improves. Discouraged by the dishonest police chief’s lack of interest in the case, Officer Warren Yancey reluctantly teams up with Ruby, who he admires, although he thinks her psychic work is a bunch of hokum. Their growing friendship is spiced with romantic tension. The social concerns of the period are well evoked. Not surprisingly, Ruby encounters a few men with sexist attitudes, which were just as irritating then as they are today.

Whispers of Warning was published by Berkley in September; I reviewed it for November's Historical Novels Review. For those who like to read series in order, here's the review of book 1, Whispers Beyond the Veil.  Both books have great covers designs!

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