Lesley Grant-Adamson, Judith
Hawkes & Martha C. Lawrence
Hauntings, the Paranormal & Psychic
A number of books are published this month that deal with psychic powers or the supernatural - in very different ways...
Julian's House by Judith Hawkes
My Soul To Keep by Judith Hawkes
Evil Acts by Lesley Grant-Adamson
Murder in Scorpio by Martha C. Lawrence
by Judith Hawkes
Hodder & Stoughton Coronet Pbk (0 340 67159 9) £5.99
Julian's House begins when Sally and David Curtiss rent an old Victorian house in a sleepy New England town. Tales of hauntings have long surrounded the house: children's tales of the green face at an upstairs gable window, tales of spirit lights and violent noises echoing around the rooms. All in all a wonderful opportunity for a pair of trained parapsychologists to investigate a real-life haunting.
The idea was David's. David who seemingly has not one psychic bone in his body, who spends his professional life recording the minutiae of carefully controlled scientific experiments, designed to disprove as much as prove the reality of these so-called psychic phenomena. David pursues this work in the hope that one day resounding and undeniable evidence will emerge to prove the existence of paranormal forces - there's still a long way to go. Controlled laboratory experimentation is essential, but David also has an overwhelming desire to experience at first-hand the powerful psychic forces that others tell of. For David the few summer months spent in the house are a dream come true - his own "haunted" house to experiment with.
Sally, on the other hand, originally trained as a Physicist is almost perversely sceptical about the whole thing. Parapsychologists love one thing more than a haunting, and that's statistics, usually showing that the event is more likely to have had some other cause. Sally's scepticism is in many ways a defence against the constant psychic energy that bombards her own psyche. As a child she has taught herself to cut herself off from the thoughts and feelings of others, to protect her "self". As an adult, parapsychology gives her the knowledge to rationalise and understand her own experiences.
The character of the house permeates the whole story, and the beauty of the prose is often breathtaking:
"Rain suited the old house - rain rattling on the high gables, tapping at the windows, fringing the edge of the porch roof in a self-renewing curtain of glimmering drops. Rain rushing down the rusty old gutters and spurting off in waterfalls to form puddles in the yard; the heart-shaped linden leaves hanging glossy and heavy or blowing off the trees and across the yard to collect in sodden heaps against the latticework under the porch...."
Add to this, the slightly worrying turn that the Curtis's year-old marriage has taken and you have a story filled with unresolved tensions, psychological, physical and psychic. There is just one central question. Is the house haunted? With a mass of laboratory equipment designed to register and record any untoward happenings in the house, the investigation begins.
The book is a remarkably complex investigation into the supernatural on many different levels. The analysis of evidence for psychic and paranormal phenomena is one of the most convincing I have seen in the pages of a novel. The idea that any haunting can be attributed to paranormal causes is never accepted as a basic premise. All along there are perfectly reasonable psychological or physical explanations for the phenomena observed.
Above all else, Julian's House is an exciting, extremely well-written novel with all the suspense and thrills anyone could want from such a story. The characters are complex and appealing, and the hint of tensions (psychic or otherwise) under the apparent normalcy of everyday life is compelling. It little matters whether you believe in hauntings or not, you are drawn into the saga of the house and its occupants, are witness to the chilling climax and are left to draw your own conclusions. Wonderful (E.A.L.)
My Soul To Keep
by Judith Hawkes
Hodder & Stoughton (0 340 66581 5) £16.99
In the second novel by Judith Hawkes, My Soul To Keep, a haunting again figures as the main theme but this time the author takes a very different approach. Nan returns to live at her grandmother's old house among the mountains of Tennessee after the break up of her marriage and the consequent disillusionment with her highly successful career. She needs to reassess her life and wants to spend more time with her son Stephen who has also had a number of bad experiences in his short life living in New York. When she was 9 years old, Nan had visited her grandmother and become firm friends with a young local boy, Tucker, who died tragically in an accident. Nan knows she was somehow involved but she has no memory of what actually happened. The house itself appears idyllic but, as with most houses in the area, is remote and lonely, especially at night. Life in the country seems the tonic they both need, but sometimes Nan and Stephen find their new life threatening, used as they are to the city. Nan becomes attached to the house and her new-found relatives but is shocked when Stephen's pretend playmate Woody begins to re-appear.
The story deals with the pragmatic city dweller's built-in resistance to any suggestion of the paranormal versus what Nan sees as the country peoples' too-ready acceptance of supernatural causes of the strange happenings that start to haunt herself and Stephen. As with Julian's House, there are strong emotional and sexual tensions between the main characters. And again there are such a variety of people giving different and convincing explanations of the incidents that there's no feeling of being cheated, that the supernatural has snook up on you unawares! You still don't have to believe in it, not if you don't want to!
Again, even to someone who is basically sceptical about such things as hauntings, the characters are so well-crafted, the atmosphere so heady and the story so enthralling that you don't want to put the book down. You have to find out what's going to happen. You guess, but more often than not you're pulled even further into the lives of the characters and end up feeling that you've just gone the last few miles with them as the story reaches its final climax!! Ms Hawkes' ability to switch seamlessly from one interpretation of events to the opposite, and keep you believing in the possibility of both is amazing. You emerge from the experience knowing that it couldn't possibly have happened - or could it? Great entertainment. (E.A.L)
by Lesley Grant-Adamson
Hodder & Stoughton (0 340 66019 8) £16.99
In the next novel, Lesley Grant-Adamson's Evil Acts, the story again centres around a house, but the initial emphasis is different. The book explores the ways in which a scene of horrific tragedy (in this case mass murder) can affect the lives of those around, far into the future.
"Evil isn't contained, is it? You can't be evil and not affect anyone else... One evil act and there's a ripple that touches numerous lives."
Number 22 Bridge Street has been the scene of repeated and brutal killings. The former tenant is now in jail serving time for murders he committed over a period of many years. When Grace finds the house it's just what she's been looking for and at the right price, even if it isn't in a trendy area of London with easy access to her friends. In some ways this could be a blessing. She is persuaded to buy the house with no knowledge of its history. But although the house has been completely re-designed and modernised, all physical trace of its gruesome past expelled, it's not long before Grace begins to sense a strangeness about the place. She begins to hear noises in the night, noises which disturb her friends.
One day she is confronted with the truth about the house and it is from here that we are witness to the gradual disintegration of Grace's life, and to some extent her personality. The house appears, however ludicrous the idea is to Grace, to be haunted by the murderer's victims. Grace needs to find out the whole truth about the house and its past, she needs to understand what is going on. Is she losing her grip on reality? She turns to Mike Cleary for help. Cleary has detailed knowledge of other scenes of mass murder, and lives in Spitalfields, Jack the Ripper's territory, not too far from where Grace now lives. Perhaps he can help explain the strange noises. But is a supernatural explanation adequate? Grace's behaviour seems to suggest something much worse, and more insidious.
The house and its history weave their spell over both Grace and the reader, drawing you inexorably in to share Grace's point of view. And it's with a jolt that you are knocked back to reality, into seeing events and people as they really are (or are they?). The novel is wonderfully suspenseful and gripping. The characters are well-drawn and the sense of the slightly seedy side of London gives the story great atmosphere. But it is the complexity of Grace's character that allows you to be drawn into the story, to accept her perceptions as your own. Lesley Grant-Adamson shows great psychological insight in the moulding of such characters and very cleverly illustrates the ease with which situations and the characters within them can have alternative interpretations if taken from a different point of view. A shift in perception is all that is needed to change innocent events into events charged with threat. When the story reaches its final climax you're still left to wonder how much of which version was the "real" truth. A great read! (E.A.L.)
by Martha C. Lawrence
Hodder & Stoughton (0 340 66570 X) £16.99
In the final novel, Murder in Scorpio, we are looking at something totally different. This novel is in the traditional mould of a PI cracking a murder case, but in this instance there is a twist: Dr Elizabeth Chase has psychic powers.
Elizabeth has always "known" things that others werent aware of, but when she sees a ghost, at the age of twenty, she begins to doubt her own sanity. She turns to the study of the paranormal as a way of understanding her experiences. In marked contrast to Sally Curtiss in Julian's House, Elizabeths studies allow her to accept her powers. Although she usually has a hard time convincing others.
Her involvement in the PI business begins when she helps solve the case of a missing boy - she has a sudden flash of insight, tells the police the address, and the boy is saved! This type of dramatic revelation had not happened before, nor since, but the incident launches Elizabeth into her new career as a PI. She explains her powers to Sergeant Tom McGowan:
"These are not circus tricks. Im not one of those palm readers with the neon hands flashing over their doorways. Periodically, I have flashes of what is known as psychic insight. But primarily Im an investigator. My occasional psychic ability is just one of my leveraging tools. Like the gun in your holster. Nice when I can use it, but I cant always count on it".
Now your first reaction to this could very well be that having a psychic investigator on the case is cheating. That she will be allowed to know things that couldnt possibly be known from the evidence. Well, on the one hand, Elizabeth is indeed psychic, but she has no real control over her powers, often they desert her altogether and she is at the mercy of any insights that she might have. And quite often, she gets things wrong. Her skills as a straight PI are of more importance in solving the case than her psychic abilities. On the other hand, of all of the books here, this is the only one where you are asked to take psychic phenomena for granted. Interpretation of dreams, psychic visions, out of body experiences, psychic auras and astrological influences all feature in the story, even if the knowledge gleaned from these experiences is not treated as hard "evidence". If you have a problem with this then Murder in Scorpio certainly isnt for you.
But once you get over the initial worry that the story will not hold water, you are drawn to the vivacious, clever and witty Dr Elizabeth Chase. The sidekick in the story is a police officer who is extremely sceptical of any psychic claims initially, and who is used in many ways to mirror and disarm the readers fears. He needs Elizabeths help to investigate the death of a once close friend whos been killed in a driving accident. Tom McGowan suspects the incident is not as straight forward as the police assume, but his hunch is based on his own psychic insight - something he cant really believe in. They team up - he supplies the inside information about the accident, and she carries out the investigation of friends, family and colleagues to uncover a murky and dangerous world, California-style. The story is fast-paced and exciting. This glimpse into the life of a female PI/psychic is entertaining and illuminating. Dr Elizabeth Chase is an innovative addition to the realms of female PIs. (E.A.L.)
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