When the Ghost is Unseen: Finding Fantasy in Mainstream Fiction

When the Ghost is Unseen: Finding Fantasy in Mainstream Fiction

The Seance John Harwood-small The Vanishing Wendy Webb-small The Somnambulist Jonathan Barnes-small

When I browse the SF and Fantasy section at my local Barnes & Noble every Saturday, I usually return home with a handful of intriguing finds. There’s certainly no shortage of books to choose from, and more showing up every week.

One thing I miss in my book hunts, however, is the thrill of the unknown. When I settle into my big green chair with a new horror novel, I know there’s a monster hiding somewhere. That’s the one drawback of always shopping in the genre section: you know the ghost will pop out by chapter five.

That’s why I like to spice up my reading by browsing in the gothic mystery section (my wife Alice’s favorite section). Is there a spook, or isn’t there? Often you don’t know until the end of the book (and sometimes not even then), and that adds a delicious element of mystery. Here’s a quick rundown of three delightful gothic mysteries I recently added to my collection.

First up is John Harwood’s second novel The Seance. Harwood’s debut novel, The Ghost Writer, won the International Horror Guild Award. The Seattle Times calls this one “An electrifying Victorian ghost story.” Here’s the description.

Wraxford Hall, a decaying mansion in the English countryside, has a sinister reputation. Once, a family disappeared there. And now Constance Langton has inherited this dark place as well as the mysteries surrounding it.

Constance grew up in a house marked by the death of her sister, and she is no stranger to mystery, secrets, and dark magic. Her father was distant. Her mother was in perpetual mourning for her lost child. In a desperate attempt to coax her mother back to health, Constance took her to a seance hoping she would find supernatural comfort. But tragic consequences followed, leaving her alone in the world — alone with Wraxford Hall. Saddled with this questionable bequest, she must find the truth at the heart of all these disappearances, apparitions, betrayal, blackmail, and villainy, even if it costs her life.

The Seance was published by Mariner Books on June 1, 2005. It is 328 pages, priced at $14.95 in trade paperback and $9.99 for the digital edition. The cover was designed by Mark R. Robinson.

Next up is The Vanishing by Wendy Webb, author of The Tale of Halcyon Crane.

Just as Julia Bishop’s life is collapsing around her, a stranger appears on her doorstep with an intriguing job offer — he asks Julia to be a companion for his elderly mother, the famous and rather eccentric horror novelist Amaris Sinclair, whom Julia has always admired… and who the whole world thinks is dead. Julia jumps at the chance for a fresh start.

But when she arrives at Havenwood, the Sinclairs’ magnificent, centuries-old estate in the middle of the wilderness near Lake Superior, she begins to suspect her too-good-to-be-true job offer is exactly that. Mysteries and secrets haunt the halls of Havenwood and the forest beyond. Why did Amaris Sinclair choose to vanish from the public eye more than a decade earlier? What are the whispers Julia hears? And why, exactly, was Julia brought to Havenwood in the first place? For answers, Julia turns to Drew McCullough, the great-grandson of the mysterious Scottish nobleman who built Havenwood. Together, they realize something sinister and very close to her own family history is quickening out of the past.

With twists and turns, spine-tingling scenes, and a surprise ending, award-winning novelist Wendy Webb has crafted another intricate and addictive tale of gothic suspense that you won’t be able to put down.

The Vanishing was published by Hyperion Books on January 21, 2014. It is 290 pages, priced at $15 in trade paperback and $9.99 for the digital edition. The cover was deigned by Laura Klynstra.

Jonathan Barnes is the author of The Domino Men. His first novel, The Somnambulist, is the tale of a 19th Century English magician called in to help with a baffling case.

Once the toast of good society in Victoria’s England, the extraordinary conjurer Edward Moon no longer commands the respect that he did in earlier times. Still, each night he returns to the stage of his theater to amaze his devoted, albeit dwindling, audience, aided by his partner, the Somnambulist — a silent, hairless, hulking giant who, when stabbed, does not bleed. But these are strange, strange times in England, with the oddest of sorts prowling London’s dank underbelly. And the very bizarre death of a disreputable actor has compelled a baffled police constabulary to turn once again to Edward Moon for help — inevitably setting in motion events that will shatter his increasingly tenuous grasp on reality.

The Somnambulist was published by William Morrow in January 6, 2009. It is 384 pages, priced at $14.99 in trade paperback. There is no digital edition.

All three books are still in print. I bought all three at online (two at deep discounts from booksellers selling remaindered editions).

If you’ve got a favorite gothic mystery suggestion for your fellow fantasy lovers, let us know.

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