The Seance Paperback – Dec 8 2009
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About the Author
Iain Lawrence is the author of numerous acclaimed novels for young people. He lives on Gabriola Island, British Columbia.
From the Hardcover edition.
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
WEDNESDAY, JUNE 2, 1926
ADMIRAL BYRD CIRCLES NORTH POLE
FLAGPOLE SITTER TOPS FIFTEEN DAYS
SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN TESTS
At five minutes to midnight, a stranger arrived for the seance. He came out of the hot summer darkness and tapped three times on the door.
The sitters were at their places, all four around the table. My mother was dressing in her bedroom. So I was the one who answered the knock. Scooter King, thirteen, I saw the Stranger in.
He was standing under the porch light, like a big moth in a rumpled overcoat, holding his hat and a bamboo cane. His hair was silver, his mustache gray, his spectacles thick and round. Behind the lenses of those cheaters, his eyes were almost yellow.
He spoke in a soft and mumbly voice. "I'm not too late, I hope. For the sitting, I mean." From the bowl of his hat he pulled out a scrap of newspaper. He showed me the advertisement that he'd circled in black.
"This is the proper place, isn't it?" asked the Stranger.
"Sure. Come in," I said.
The guy was a chump. He tried to take off his coat without putting down his cane, so he got himself in such a tangle that I had to unhook him from his own clothes. Then he gave me his things, and I led him into the tiny room that my mother called the vestibule but was really a closet with the shelves ripped out. Inside was a lamp, a wicker chair, and a spindly table that would shake if someone looked at it too hard. Piled on the tabletop were a stack of books, a candle and matches, and an ashtray shaped like a turtle. Under all that stuff, the table looked more crowded than Noah's ark, but the widgets were there for a reason.
"Madam King is waiting," I said. "If you could write out a question for the spirits, I-"
"That's not necessary," said the Stranger. He patted his mustache, smoothing its ends. "I have only one wish, and that's to hear from my poor Annie."
"Of course." I turned away and dumped the Stranger's stuff on the chair. His eyes had changed color in the lamplight, reflecting the red from the roses that sprawled on the wallpaper. It gave me the heebie-jeebies to look at them. "Please follow me," I said.
We went down the hall and into the seance room. Mr. Stevenson twisted round in his chair to squint at us over his narrow bifocals. That week he'd turned seventy-one. He had been a drummer boy in the Civil War; he had met President Lincoln. But he was still the youngest at the table. If their ages had been added together, it would have been more than three hundred years. After every seance, I had to open the windows to blow out the old-people smell.
I got a chair for the Stranger and sat him at the end of the table. Of course I made sure that his back was toward the huge wardrobe that stood against the wall. Mr. Stevenson leaned forward and shouted at him, "Are you a believer, sir?"
"I believe what I see," said the Stranger.
"Well, see this," said Mr. Stevenson, bristling like a porcupine. But his wife calmed him down. She patted his hand and told the Stranger, "Henry's hoping to contact Paul Revere tonight. You see, Henry's a bug about Paul Revere, and-"
"I'm not a bug," said Mr. Stevenson. "I'm interested."
"Oh, he only knows more about Paul Revere than anyone alive." Mrs. Stevenson smiled at her husband. "He's frightened that a nonbeliever might block the spirits. They do that, you know."
"I assure you, I will block no spirits," said the Stranger.
I left them at the table, went out, and shut the door. Then I sprinted down the hall to the vestibule and snatched the Stranger's hat from the chair.
The sweatband was still warm. I peeled it away with my thumb, bending it back to look for a name underneath. When I found it, I smiled. The first initial was blurry from sweat, but the rest was easy to read.
I turned to the overcoat next. I rifled every pocket, but all I got was a hat-check stub from the Limelight Club and a Chuckles candy wrapped in lint. But there was a hole in the right-hand pocket, so I groped through the lining and found two curious things. The first was a small metal ring, the second a sticky ball of lint and mold.
Now, this was the sort of puzzle that I liked to solve. By itself, the ring didn't seem important. But I figured if the green stuff was an old biscuit, then maybe the ring came from a dog tag. I imagined Mr. Brown stuffing his pockets with Chuckles and biscuits, picking up a leash, whistling for Annie. He wouldn't have been the first person to come to Madam King about a dead dog. It happened nearly every month, someone showing up to speak to a dog or cat-or even a budgie-that had gone along to Summerland.
From the Hardcover edition.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
I discovered author Iain Lawrence a few years ago while perusing the junior room of our local library as my daughters searched for their own books. His 2001 title "Lord of the Nutcracker Men" caught my eye. I'm a dance journalist and have performed in hundreds of performances of "The Nutcracker" so you can guess why the book attracted me. It was not another rendition of the famous E.T.A. Hoffmann tale. It was a great book.
Hence, I have kept my eyes peeled for other I.L. books and have read everything he has published since. Love them all. He is a master at tension and story telling, and his use of metaphor and simile is captivating. Librarians, teachers, and parents looking for fiction suitable and interesting to young male readers should definitely look at I.L. books. His journalism background creates tight writing. His writing muscle is unique and strong. His voice is compelling but not beyond the scope of young readers. It's obvious he loves what he writes and believes his stories are worth it. They are.
I'm also a historical romance writer. (First book coming soon!) The question of writing about actual historical figures is a tricky one. Some writers get it and others don't. Lawrence writes his stories around young men (boys and teens) who engage with actual historical figures and he is able to pull off the chore. For "The Seance," Lawrence writes a mystical adventure for twelve year-old Scooter King who meets his idol Harry Houdini. Together they solve a mystery and survive a near-death experience. Again, Lawrence pulls this off masterfully. Believability is a tool he knows how to use.
Lawrence is smart. He provides a list of books at the back of "The Seance" for readers interested in doing their own research on the topics in the book.
I heartily recommend this book to young readers and adults interested in fiction for kids that engages their minds and their emotions in a healthy, literary sense.
Scooter King and his mother lived the simple life of a psychic medium and assistant, but things got out of hand when Harry Houdini arrived at the Orpheum Theatre. Houdini was "the berries" as far as magicians went in Scooter's mind. He wanted to meet the great escape artist more than anything in the world, but when his wish came true, both he and his mother, Madame King, became embroiled in a murder spree the likes of which their small town had never known. And it seemed like Scooter was the only person who could solve the murders. He didn't know that associating with Houdini and solving murders could land both of them in a deadly pool of deceit and multiple attempts on their lives.
The Kings had a séance room at the front of their house. Here Madame King conducted meetings in which she contacted the spirits of the dead and relayed their messages to the living. They made a meager but sufficient living of telling visitors what they wanted to hear from their dearly departed loved ones. In 1926 Middle America, psychic readings and magic shows drew curious crowds and repeat audiences who tried to figure out how it was done or just wanted to see something strange.
Author Iain Lawrence captures the persona of the Roaring Twenties with well-chosen slang, clothing, settings and personalities that depict the romantic, free-spirited emotions of the era. From a billy-club-wielding police sergeant to a hat-check girl dressed in a fringed flapper dress, Lawrence weaves familiar markers into this story of murder and magic like a well-rehearsed performance. He never misses a beat or fails to explain the time period details that help move the action along. And there is plenty of action.
Undoubtedly, Lawrence's personal history as a journalist is responsible as he supports THE SÉANCE using newspapers as a common theme throughout the book. The local paper plays an important role in the story. Headlines, advertisements, articles, photographs, the obituaries and gossip columns provide a scaffold as events unfold. The newspaper relays a great deal of information throughout the tale, and the concept serves as interesting glue bringing all the pieces together so that Scooter can solve the murders.
As usual, Lawrence has an amazing command of metaphor and simile that brings all the unusual sights and events into crystal-clear view. There's no sleight of hand, however, when he lists some research titles in the afterword that will help those seeking more information on the subjects of psychic abilities and their history. Lawrence's writing is always a literary delight to devour, and young readers will enjoy this family-rated romp through magic and mayhem and learn a bit about how the tricks are done.