The book purports to be a recently discovered manuscript written by Richard Powell, an eyewitness of the Bell Witch haunting in Robertson County, Tennessee, 181721. Monahan says that his first skeptical reading of the manuscript led him to six books confirming the authenticity of the events. Indeed, Richard Powell, the long-dead narrator, is himself a skeptic who seems to know all the devices of poltergeists, and in particular how poltergeist activity within a home reflects a family's psychic torment. Poltergeists (racket-makers) do not attack from without but rather are a spiritual pustule erupting from within a deeply troubled household. The poltergeist in this case seemed set on doing away with John Bell, the head of the family, while at the same time gradually evolving a rather homey tie with the other family members that lasted for three years and was witnessed by many. The spirit first showed up as something invisible gnawing nightly on bedposts, raining rocks on the roof, ripping covers off beds, and repeatedly slapping 12-year-old Betsy Bell and pulling her across the floor by her hair. At times the spirit allowed itself to be touched; it gathered news from afar for the family; lectured on theology; sang sweetly in four different voices; and rescued children in trouble. For three years, the spirit joked, lectured, ran off frauds and charlatans, and even nursed Bell's sick wife, producing nuts and berries for the invalid out of thin air. Even so, it afflicted the father with palsy, tics, and neuralgia, and at last watched him die. What produced the poltergeist? It's unfair to reveal here Monahan's reasonable yet supernatural answer.
More artful, if less exciting, than Monahan's brainy bloodsucker operasbut all immensely satisfying.