The book I read is called The Witch of Lime Street, Seance, Seduction, and Houdini in the Spirit World and is written by David Jaher. It’s about a Boston society woman who claimed to be a medium but was successfully debunked (more or less) by Houdini and others.
So, I’m just pouring a few thoughts onto the page because they occurred to me and appealed to my ruminating mind strongly enough that I wanted to share, should anyone be interested in reading them.
First, I sailed through the book. It’s interesting material for many different reasons.
Second, ‘sailed’ may be true in the sense that I read the book pretty quickly, but it took effort because there was something in the wordiness and construction of the narrative that had to be dealt with. Also, the writer had a way of referring to something before naming it, and then identifying the name. This is a device writers use, of course, and which works often; sorry to say, it didn’t work here, at least for me. Something to do with the unnecessary slog of wordiness that seemed to be trying to be artfulness, but perhaps simplicity may have been better.
Third, as someone mentioned on Goodreads.com, the book managed to be less informative than one would imagine. It was quite detailed, in some cases bogged down with detail about how test seances were conducted. Despite that, it leaves on wondering so many things: how did she actually do the tricks? what was the result of the investigation into the Crandons and the orphans they kept trying to adopt? what about a summary of the ultimate verdicts on the Crandons? She was deluded? She genuinely thought she could channel her brother, but she did tricks to help people believe what she believed to be true? He believed in these paranormal things, and she took a cue from h
im, and then deluded herself?
Fourth, where are the footnoted references? The writer says that the sourcing could take up a book of its own, and I suppose you don’t need footnotes for everything, but maybe a list of the sources that were used in each chapter might be good. There’s a nice list of books at the end, but I would have liked to know where particular facts and information was drawn from.
I wondered further about sourcing when I dipped into another book on Houdini that referenced the Crandons and did a little cross-referencing. Footnotes would have been nice, perhaps, not necessary, but nice.
Fifth, and further on the topic of navigating information, I was trying to remember a few items from the book after finishing it and turned to the index to help me find them, but there were no listings for the key words that might have helped me. For example, I wanted to find the name of the orphan, Horace Newton, who briefly stayed with the Crandons before, apparently, deciding to go back home to England instead of being adopted by them. I couldn’t remember his name, so I tried words that I remembered from that section, like these: Doric, or
phan, adoption. They weren’t there. Finally, I remembered a person’s name, and found that person (DeWyckoff) in the index, which finally helped me find that section.
Regarding the index, another time I looked on a page that was supposed to mention a keyword (according to the index), and it wasn’t there at all. Occasionally, this is the way indexes are, very annoyingly. I imagine they are hard to put together (though today with computers??).
Prior to reading this book, I had no idea about this bit of miscellaneous Boston history, so it was nice to learn about it, and the reading was engrossing. It is the kind of book that, both because it is interesting and because it leaves out information, leaves you wanting to investigate the topic.