Inamorata

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Inspired by real-life events, this chilling and atmospheric debut novel marks the arrival of a young writer with tremendous promise. It is the 1920s, and Spiritualism is all the rage. With seances taking place in parlors across the country and Harry Houdini and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle arguing metaphysics in the papers, the media embraces the feverish obsession with the paranormal. Twenty-three-year-old Harvard graduate Martin Finch is sent by Scientific American on the investigative opportunity of a lifetime: an ...

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Overview

Inspired by real-life events, this chilling and atmospheric debut novel marks the arrival of a young writer with tremendous promise. It is the 1920s, and Spiritualism is all the rage. With seances taking place in parlors across the country and Harry Houdini and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle arguing metaphysics in the papers, the media embraces the feverish obsession with the paranormal. Twenty-three-year-old Harvard graduate Martin Finch is sent by Scientific American on the investigative opportunity of a lifetime: an examination of the powers of Philadelphia “society psychic” Mina Crawley. But Finch, prepared to debunk a fraud, instead finds himself falling under the spell of the beguiling Mrs. Crawley—and uncovering a truth darker than any he could have imagined.

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Editorial Reviews

The Washington Post
Gangemi is wonderfully fluent in the lore of Philadelphia in the roaring '20s, and he takes obvious delight in leading the reader through the city's back alleys, flop houses and oyster bars … The author has put a fresh spin on one of spiritualism's most intriguing episodes, and Margery herself would likely have been pleased. — Daniel Stashower
Publishers Weekly
Set in the Roaring '20s and steeped in period detail, this energetic debut is narrated by one Martin Finch, a psychology graduate student at Harvard. Possessed of a wry sense of humor, a practical intelligence and an appropriately skeptical interest in the supernatural, Finch is tapped by the department chairman, Dr. William McLaughlin, to help him judge a Scientific American contest that promises $5,000 to anyone with "conclusive evidence of psychic phenomena." Before Finch and McLaughlin arrive in Manhattan for their first encounter with the paranormal, Gangemi has given the reader a thumbnail history of the Spiritualist movement, which had its heyday in the years after World War I and was championed by the likes of Arthur Conan Doyle. History notwithstanding, the narrative moves at a brisk pace: Finch and McLaughlin quickly expose two mediums as frauds before evaluating the formidable talents of Mina Crawley, the wife of a Philadelphia doctor. Finch travels to Philly as McLaughlin's agent to meet the lovely and charming seeress, and stays for several weeks in the Crawley household as he wrestles with his central conflict: his affection for Mina versus his mandate to determine whether she's a fraud. The novel turns into a slightly bawdy thriller, and the narrative vigor rarely flags as Finch pursues strange paths in the City of Brotherly Love. Gangemi is an extremely adept writer, though frequent wisecracks and references to popular songs and consumer products of the 1920s wear thin. His plot, too, is a bit weak, but this is an undeniably clever concept and an enjoyable read. (Feb.) Forecast: Jacket copy proclaims Inamorata "in the tradition of The Alienist and Carter Beats the Devil"; though it lacks the former's darkness and the latter's grandiosity, readers looking for an entertaining historical probably won't be disappointed. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Neither mystery nor romance, this is a suspense novel with both a love story and a puzzle at its center. In 1923, Harvard grad student Martin Finch is struggling to keep his finances afloat when he stumbles upon the opportunity of a lifetime: Scientific American offers $5000 for evidence of psychic ability-an event that did in fact take place in Philadelphia in the 1920s (here also affirmed by the appearance of real historical personages Arthur Conan Doyle and Houdini). A professor recruits the 23-year-old Finch to help him weed out false claims, since the prize was big bucks at the time. The episodes in which Finch catches several false psychics are fascinating for their detail and also plain funny. But it is when Finch travels to Philadelphia to investigate Mina Crawley-a wealthy doctor's wife who does not even care about the prize money-that the story takes off. While trying hard to disprove Mina's psychic abilities, Finch realizes that he not only believes her but that he's falling in love with her. Replete with images of Old Philadelphia and the Roaring Twenties, this is a thriller you won't put down until the last page. Recommended for all public libraries.-Wendy Bethel, Southwest P.L., Grove City, OH Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Love, lust, lunacy, and drugs cloud the scientific analysis of psychic phenomena in '20s Philadelphia. Pleasantly nostalgic atmosphere and a personable young narrator are the attractions in screenwriter Gangemi's more-than-competent first novel about a recent Harvard psychology graduate's adventures in spiritual debunking. Upwardly mobile Martin Finch, whose inability to de-humanize his assigned cadavers has taken him out of med school and into psychology, lands a plum assignment when senior faculty scientist William McLaughlin hires him as an assistant. McLaughlin is part of Scientific American's panel charged with disproving the claims of America's best mediums to be in touch with the ghost world, and Martin quickly and happily proves he is the right man for the job as he promptly dispatches a couple of formidable charlatans. It appears that the magazine's $5,000 reward for indisputable ties to the spirit world will remain safely in the vault until the team hears that beautiful Philadelphia socialite Mina Crawley is the real deal. Mrs. Crawley's appeal is greatly heightened by her reluctance to travel to the magazine and by her lack of interest in the prize money. Injuries make it impossible for McLaughlin to travel, so Martin goes to Philadelphia alone, and when he is frozen out of his hotel room by a chiropodists' convention, he lodges with the beautiful Mrs. Crawley and her rich, much older, gynecologist husband in their mansion near Rittenhouse Square. Seances ensue. Mina's contact with the underworld is her late gay brother Walter, and he sounds awfully like the real thing. Even though Martin has locked and sealed all the doors and windows, someone other than the panelists and theCrawleys is in their darkened nursery as tables crash and pigeons appear out of nowhere. Despite falling quickly in love with the obviously disturbed Mina, Martin doggedly follows clues and digs into the very twisted Crawley history-until he Goes Too Far. Conan Doyle nicely and neatly updated. Agent: Theresa Park/Sanford J. Greenburger Associates
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780670032792
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
  • Publication date: 1/28/2004
  • Pages: 336
  • Product dimensions: 5.88 (w) x 8.60 (h) x 1.17 (d)

Meet the Author

Joseph Gangemi was born in Wilmington, Delaware, in 1970.

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Read an Excerpt

1

“Hypnotize her.”

I looked at the girl Halliday had just shoved at me like a virgin sacrifice. She was a leggy little sophomore from Radcliffe, slim as a cigarette, with a black bob and painted brows that gave her a look of pretty astonishment. She gazed up at me in myopic perplexity, as if my face were a puzzle she’d completed only to find herself holding an unaccounted piece.

I looked at Halliday. “I beg your pardon?”

“Hypnotize her, Finch,” he repeated. “Everyone knows you can do it.”

“You’re mistaken.”

“Am I? Why don’t we ask Dickie Hodgson’s sister?”

Halliday gave me a challenging look. The smug son of a bitch knew he had me. I glanced past him to the nearest exit, clear across Emerson’s student lounge, calculating the odds of making my escape before Halliday succeeded in drawing a crowd. A few years earlier I might’ve stood a chance, but ever since Prohibition attendance at the psychology department’s illicit Christmas soirées had soared. The path to freedom tonight was blocked by a fox-trotting mob of besotted doctoral candidates. No, Halliday had me cornered. Though that didn’t mean I was defeated.

“I can’t hypnotize her, Wick.”

“Why?”

“For starters”—I stalled—“she’s tight.”

“I am not!” The girl stamped the floor with one satin-shod foot. I threw her a look to keep quiet, but it was too late; she’d already managed to create a scene. Several of our classmates within earshot were drifting our way to investigate. And Halliday wasted no time encouraging them.

“Gather ’round, ladies and gentlemen,” he called over their heads, playing carnival barker. “Our own Dr. Caligari is going to grace us with a demonstration of his formidable mental powers!” Someone switched off the gramophone, and the music—a dance number called “Bit by Bit You’re Breaking My Heart” by Charles Dornberger and His Orchestra—went silent, leaving only the susurrus of the inebriated crowd. As all eyes in the lounge turned our way my throat constricted and the roof of my mouth began to sweat. It was a recurrent nightmare come to life— the one consolation being that in the present version, at least, I was still wearing my trousers. God only knew what was going through the head of Halliday’s girl at that moment. I felt a sudden and overwhelming wave of tenderness toward her, this girl whose name I didn’t even know.

But when I turned to show her what I hoped was a reassuring look, I found Halliday’s girl glaring at me. Arms crossed. One toe tapping the carpet in agitation. She gave me the withering look of an impatient prostitute, asked, “Well, what are you waiting for?”

“I suppose ... a pocketwatch.”

Another bluff. All I’d needed was a birthday candle to get Dickie Hodgson’s sister howling like a beagle that had heard a fire siren. As last-ditch efforts went, I gave this one even odds at succeeding. Thanks to the war, wristwatches were no longer considered effeminate, at least among the college set, while their stuffier, vest-dwelling forebears were quickly going the way of the pince-nez. Or so I sincerely hoped.

“Here!”

I cringed as the pocketwatch came through the crowd, passing from hand to hand until it arrived in my own—an absurd thing, heavy as a gold-plated turnip, its weight in my palm conjuring images of a firelit study, an alcoholic judge, a solemn retelling of some ancestor’s decisive role in the Louisiana Purchase. I opened its gold cover and read the inscription: Truth lies at the center of a circle. Maybe so for the watch’s owner. But all I stood to discover at the center of the circle of onlookers now surrounding me was a very public embarrassment.

“The floor’s all yours, sport,” Halliday said.

I sighed, shifted my eyes to my reluctant assistant. “I suppose we should start by you telling me your name.”

“Veda.” Defiant.

“All right, Veda,” I began, “I’d like you to take a few deep breaths to relax.... Go ahead ... yes, that’s right.... And when you feel you are ready, begin to focus your attention on this watch....” And I set the watch swinging like a pendulum, back and forth, back and forth, before Veda’s highly skeptical expression.

She resisted at first, then began to follow its motion with her blue eyes. I worried she was too intoxicated to muster the requisite concentration—for it takes significant mental displine to narrow the aperture of awareness, to still the incessant babbling of mind—but her animosity toward me seemed to have had a sobering effect, and after a moment her eyelids became heavy. Her descent into a trance state required little of me beyond the occasional encouraging word, though for our audience’s sake, I made a great show of glowering menacingly and looking Mephistophelian—at least insofar as this is possible when one is twenty-three and shaves only every other day. At last Halliday’s girl arrived at that place of equipoise between alertness and relaxation, and I knew that her inhibitions had reached their point of lowest ebb.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t the only one who knew it.

“Witness, ladies and gentlemen,” Halliday said, “the power men wield over the impressionable female mind!”

There were jeers from the crowd. Someone let out a piercing wolf whistle. I shot the whistler a sharp look and motioned for silence. Halliday’s girl stood swaying like tapering smoke from an extinguished candle. She smiled, as if she were having a pleasant dream. Time to test her openness to suggestion.

“Can you still hear me, Veda?”

“Mmmmmm.”

She drew out the syllable as if I’d fed her something sweet. The hairs along my arms stood up. I was frightened; also, I confess, not a little aroused. I fought the impulse to bring her out of it immediately, forced my brain to become a motion-picture camera recording the details of her own arousal: how her lips had swollen imperceptibly beyond their lipsticked borders, the gooseflesh giving pattern to her slender arms, the way her nostrils flared with each delicious breath. A shiver ran through her as if she’d felt a draft, and from my privileged vantage it became obvious she wasn’t wearing a bust flattener beneath her silk dress.

Halliday appeared at my elbow. “Remarkable,” he whispered, eyes traveling up and down the length of her. “You know, it strikes me that our Veda here would make an absolutely smashing Salomé—”

“Forget it.”

“You’re right, we can do better,” he said ruminatively. “Something truly memorable ... something she wouldn’t dream of doing awake—”

“It doesn’t work that way.”

“What doesn’t?”

“Hypnotic suggestion,” I said. “I can’t force her to do anything she doesn’t want to.”

“Because it’s forbidden by the mesmerists’ Code of Honor?”

“More like the mechanics of the human unconscious.”

I watched Halliday stew on this with a sour expression. Like so many in those days, he had fallen in thrall to the behavior- ists, pigeon trainers like J. B. Watson who dismissed human consciousness as a side effect of overstimulated nerves, and therefore unworthy of study. Halliday knew that when it came to the subject of the unconscious, he was woefully ill informed. I could see him weighing whether or not I was telling the truth. In fact I was. Contrary to popular belief, it’s all but impossible to force a hypnotized subject to do something against her will—though I hadn’t arrived at this understanding via any deep reading of Freud. Rather, I’d come by it as did most self-taught Svengalis: through trial and error, and a mail-order pamphlet titled Hypnosis Explained!

Halliday narrowed his eyes at me. He wasn’t buying it.

“In that case why don’t we put your hypothesis to the test, Doctor?”

Before I could protest he turned and began appealing to the crowd for ideas, working the house like an old vaudevillian. The suggestions that came back ranged from the silly (“Make her swallow a goldfish!”) to the sadistic (“Convince her that her hair’s falling out!”). Someone shouted we should give her a glass of water and convince her it was champagne, a suggestion I found privately amusing in light of the fact that the fellow who’d made it was at that moment drinking a dilute solution of ethyl alcohol that some bootlegger had sold him as “gin.”

After a minute of this Halliday shook his head, dismissing the uninspired suggestions wholesale. Fearing he was losing his audience, he seized me by the elbow, hissed a few inches from my ear, “For God’s sake, Finch, I thought Jews were supposed to be clever! Now come up with something quick, before you make us both look like fools.”

There it was. Jew. I’d always suspected the question of my race shadowed me about campus, but until that moment I had never encountered the rumor firsthand. That it was incorrect—Finch was short for Finnochiaro; I had been raised a Roman Catholic—was beside the point. My face grew hot. My hands clenched into fists. I felt the cocktail of adrenaline and alcohol in my bloodstream threatening immolation....

And then a sudden, anesthetizing calm. It settled over me like a narcotic shroud, cooling my blood, suffusing me with an unearned confidence. I looked at the hypnotized girl awaiting my instructions. Looked at Halliday.

“Something clever, you say?”

“Preferably before the New Year, old sport.”

“Something she wouldn’t dream of doing awake ...”

“Otherwise where’s the fun?” asked Halliday with a wink to his audience.

“All right,” I said, and, turning to Halliday’s girl, instructed her, “Kiss me.”

A stunned silence—the sound of the crowd’s drawing a collective breath and then holding it as they awaited Veda’s response. At first she showed no sign whatsoever of having heard, but then, after a delay of several seconds, a faint smile appeared on her painted lips. My heart thrilled as her cool arms encircled my neck, everything happening in an uncontrollable rush now, like the moment gravity seizes your sled and you begin hurtling downhill. Suddenly we were kissing, or rather she was kissing me: hungrily, with open mouth and tiny noises from her throat I can only describe as feral. I would like to say I glimpsed Halliday out of the corner of my eye going white as a ghost, but that would be a lie. The truth was, I was too busy being devoured to be aware of anything beyond the catcalls of the crowd—Until the scream.

“Rats!”

They came scurrying across the Oriental carpet, two dozen healthy adolescents scrambling among leather brogues and ladies’ boots. They were bald as Trappist monks, their tiny pink scalps shaved smooth for stereotaxic surgery. I knew because I’d been their barber, as well as caretaker. I heard a squeal as one of my rodent charges met its demise beneath a Louis heel, and, shoving Veda aside, I threw myself headlong into the throng. More screams and, floating above it all, some prankster’s cruel laughter. I crawled on all fours through the forest of trouser legs and shapely ankles in silk hose, trying to round up as many rats as possible. But no sooner had I corralled a wriggling armful than I took a wingtip to the temple that dropped me to the carpet— stunned, spectacles knocked askew. The rats scattered to the four corners of the room and one by one met their fate beneath the feet of the stampeding herd of flappers and philosophers.

••• An hour later I waited in an uncomfortable chair outside the office of the chairman of the psychology department, Dr. William McLaughlin, a man I had never met. That our introduction would take place under such inauspicious circumstances—the middle of the night, in the aftermath of an incident that had left thirty laboratory rats dead or missing and a faculty member’s experiment ruined—only deepened my depression. To be perfectly honest, it wasn’t the dressing-down I most feared. It was being fired.

I stared at the windows, miserable. Outside Emerson Hall a light snow was busily erasing the brick walks of Harvard Yard, prelude to another nor’easter. Already the winter was off to a punishing start, with a foot of fresh snow delivered to our doorstep each weekend like the Sunday paper. With the snow came a blistering cold off the Charles that in its more inspired gusts brought tears to the eyes of poor bastards like myself who were unlucky enough to live on the outskirts of Cambridge. (The only thing that had spared my lesser extremities from frostbite was the fact that I kept a mental list of every radiator in a three-mile vicinity, and had mapped the shortest routes between them.) Tonight I would be making the trek home sans overcoat, since in the hullabaloo following the party someone had walked off with it, leaving me only my muffler and gloves. I consoled myself that I’d been meaning to get a new coat anyway, though it remained in question exactly how I was going to afford it. My father’s checks had stopped; I had spent all but $1.30 of my last paycheck and for the last three nights had been subsisting on ketchup sandwiches.

It occured to me now that if I were to lose my job feeding and watering the department’s various colonies of lab rats, I might simply lie down in the most comfortable-looking snowbank I encountered on my walk home and go to sleep. I dimly recalled something from my brief tenure in medical school (courtesy of one of our more ghoulish professors) about hypothermia’s being among the more painless means of suicide....

“He’s ready for you, Finch.”

A chastened Halliday had emerged from McLaughlin’s office looking several inches shorter and considerably less conceited. I rose. As we passed one another in the doorway, Halliday gave me a shove with his shoulder that sent me into the frame. I struck my funny bone on the doorknob and winced.

“Dreadfully sorry,” Halliday said with a look that implied he was anything but.

Inside the office McLaughlin stood at the windows contemplating the snow. Given the ungodly hour, I had half expected to find him in dressing gown and pajamas and was surprised to discover him dressed for the lectern in an exquisite Savile Row suit of worsted wool, complete with French collar and cuff links. On the whole I would have preferred the pajamas, since the notion of his rising stiffly from his bed and walking to the bureau to solemnly select cuff links deeply unsettled me.

“Take a seat, Mr. Finch,” he said without turning.

I hurried to the nearest leather chair across from his great mahogany desk. He proceeded to ignore me, employing that tried-and-true technique of displeased parents of Leaving Me to Think About What I’d Done. The silence grew heavy, the only sounds an occasional gurgling from the radiator and my own stomach. I glanced around the office and was surprised to see on the bookshelves among the standard texts on social psychology (including McLaughlin’s own, currently in its third edition) several occult works with titles like On the Threshold of the Unseen and Modern Spiritualism. And there on the wall, beside the framed diplomas from Harvard and Oxford (a D.Sc., awarded in 1889), what appeared to be a certificate of recognition from the American Society for Psychical Research. But before I could examine the calligraphy any more closely, McLaughlin spoke, and my interrogation commenced.

“I wonder, Mr. Finch,” he began, his voice bearing the hint of a British accent, “if you wouldn’t mind sharing your thoughts on how Professor Schneider’s rats might have escaped from the basement?”

“I assume it was someone’s idea of a practical joke.”

“Yours?”

“Certainly not,” I said, appending a hasty “—sir.”

“I see.”

This exchange took place without his ever once turning to look at me. Another uncomfortable silence fell, after which he announced, apropos of nothing, “I don’t much care for Prohibition. To be perfectly honest, I see no reason a man shouldn’t enjoy a drink at the end of the day ... or the academic term, as the case may be. Preferably sherry of course”—finally turning from the windows—“though I’m told the cocktail of choice among graduate fellows is wood alcohol or similar industrial solvents, isn’t that right, Mr. Finch?”

I sat forward in my chair, readying my defense. “I wasn’t responsible for the bootleg gin. And as for Professor Schneider’s rats, I’m positive I locked his laboratory after the six-o’clock feeding. Someone must have stolen the key from the office—or from one of the janitors. It really wouldn’t be all that difficult to—”

McLaughlin raised a hand to silence me. He opened his jacket and hooked his thumbs in his vest pockets, a signature pose I’d seen caricatured once in an underground student newspaper. The caricaturist had done an admirable job capturing the face I saw now scrutinizing me, the fair Irish skin and wisp of white hair, the distinguished features beginning to turn brittle with the years, like paper; but he hadn’t done justice to McLaughlin’s eyes, blue as a newborn’s and just as inquisitive. They studied me behind rimless spectacles for a good half minute, rarely blinking as they decided my fate. At last McLaughlin spoke.

“It occurs to me that perhaps the department is wasting your talents having you care for Professor Schneider’s rats.”

Here it came. A note of desperation crept into my voice.

“Please, Professor, if you’ll only let me explain—”

“That won’t be necessary, Finch.”

“But I need this job,” I pleaded. “If you let me go, I’ll have to leave Harvard—I’m barely holding on as it is. I’m not like Halliday; my father isn’t a senator.”

McLaughlin’s ears pricked up. “And what does he do?”

I frowned in confusion. “Who?”

“Your father.”

No doubt my hesitation was as telling as my reply: “He’s a greengrocer in the North End.”

“Ah! I suspected a barber.”

“What gave you that idea?”

McLaughlin took a seat behind his desk, explained, “You came to us as a transfer student from the medical college ...” Opening a file folder before him, he consulted my transcript, continuing, “Given your excellent grades there, I can only assume you chose to leave for personal reasons— that medicine was never your dream in the first place. Nothing unusual in this, of course. You aren’t the first student who allowed the prevailing winds of parental opinion to steer him toward an unsuitable profession. As a parent myself, I can understand the temptation to live vicariously through one’s children. I asked myself what merchant or tradesman would hold medicine in symbolic esteem and recalled that in many Italian immigrant communities medical advice and folk remedies are often dispensed by the neighborhood barber.” Closing my file, McLaughlin concluded, “In other words, Finch, I made an educated guess—an incorrect one, as it turns out.”

As incorrect guesses went, his wasn’t far off the mark. My father had studied medicine for a year at the University of Bologna before emigrating to America, and he still kept an anatomy text close at hand in the fruit stall for the occasional sidewalk consultation. Yet impressive as McLaughlin’s performance was, it still contained a few leaps in logic I couldn’t follow.

“But how did you know I’m Italian?”

Now it was McLaughlin’s turn to look confused.

“I should think that was obvious. You have Mediterranean features.”

A surprised laugh escaped me, but when McLaughlin gave me a questioning look, I only shook my head to indicate that it would take too long to explain. I asked my one remaining question:
“Why didn’t you assume that my father was a doctor?”

McLaughlin handled this with kid gloves. “In my experience, Finch, physicians’ sons don’t need to work so many jobs to afford their tuition.”

Despite the sympathetic look he showed me, I felt myself redden. “He’s actually quite successful,” I found myself saying in my father’s defense. “I was selling him a bit short calling him a greengrocer. He’s really more of an importer.”

“Of course.”

“He’s just disappointed, you understand. He had his heart set on me being a physician. I tried explaining to him psychology was potentially just as lucrative, that people like Brill and Watson are making a killing on Madison Avenue with what they’ve learned in the lab....”

“Very true.”

“In any case, I’m certain once he cools down he’ll come around and I won’t have to work as many jobs.”

“No doubt he will. But in the meantime ...” McLaughlin turned in his chair, began searching through a pile of journals stacked on the radiator. “I believe I can offer you an opportunity that will help consolidate your extracurricular jobs into one better suited to your abilities.” Turning back, McLaughlin slid a magazine across the desk toward me. “Are you familiar with the Scientific American?” he asked.

“Somewhat.”

This was an understatement. Scientific American had been a staple of my childhood, the reading I’d graduated to after exhausting the oeuvre of Verne and Wells. Full of articles on advances in radiography and illustrations of airships and superlocomotives, its glossy pages had fueled my romantic imagination and for a brief time filled my twelve-year-old head with thoughts of being an engineer. (Or some days—an airship captain.) Until, that is, my father quashed the idea. To his way of thinking, engineering was little better than a glorified trade. I don’t believe he’d ever met an actual engineer, unless it was to sell him an apple on his way to work, but this didn’t prevent him from dismissing the profession. Tinkerers, that’s what l’ingegneri were to my father.

Crackpot inventors whose children went hungry. And so he banned the Scientific American from our household, before it could have a further corrupting influence on his only son—who was already exhibiting signs of being a bit of a dabbler.

“Turn to page 389,” McLaughlin said now.

It had been more than a decade since I’d last held a copy of Scientific American in my hands, and as I thumbed through the pages of last month’s issue—November 1922—it pleased me to see that the magazine hadn’t changed significantly. Here were feature articles on “The Largest Cruising Airdrome” and “Finger Prints Via Radio,” alongside brief updates on advances in civil engineering and recently patented inventions. It lifted my spirits to find that it even smelled as I remembered, like glue and linotype.

I found the page McLaughlin indicated and beneath the headline a square deal for the psychics read the following announcement from the Scientific American editors:

***********************************************************
$5,000 For Psychic Phenomena

As a contribution toward psychic research, the scientific american pledges the sum of $5,000 to be awarded for conclusive psychic manifestations.... The scientific american will pay $2,500 to the first person who produces a psychic photograph under its test conditions and to the full satisfaction of the eminent men who will act as judges ... and $2,500 to the first person who produces a visible psychic manifestion of other character. Purely mental phenomena like telepathy, or purely auditory ones like rappings, will not be eligible for this award. The contest does not revolve about the psychological or religious aspects of the phenomena, but has to do only with genuineness and objective reality.

I couldn’t help stating the obvious: “That’s a lot of money.”

“Indeed,” McLaughlin said, “which is why the editors of the Scientific American have asked me to head the panel of judges who will evaluate the candidates. As you might imagine, a cash award that size is drawing all sorts of questionable characters out of the woodwork.”

Who could blame them? With twenty-five hundred dollars, I could have lived in high style, with enough left over to purchase a car—and not just any secondhand flivver, but a sporty new Pierce- Arrow with velour upholstery and an electric starter. The type of automobile that got one invited to the petting parties our campus chaplain was always sermonizing against. Pity, then, that my attitude regarding supernatural phenomena was highly skeptical; otherwise I might have immediately borrowed a Ouija board and had a crack at the prize money myself. But at least I might still profit from the contest.

“You mentioned something about a job?”

McLaughlin nodded. “I need a graduate assistant. An assistant, it just so happens, with precisely your combination of skills.”

“I’m not sure I know what skills you’re referring to.”

“Professor Blackton tells me you’re a fellow who knows his way around a soldering iron, isn’t that right, Finch?”

“I suppose so,” I admitted. “He hired me to build him a rheostat for an experiment he’s planning. Something about visual acuity in varying light.”

“Excellent.”

“But you could probably find a hundred undergraduates in the school of engineering who could do the same.”

McLaughlin raised an eyebrow. “Are you trying to talk me out of hiring you, Finch?”

“No.”

“Good, because I’ve made my decision.”

McLaughlin sat forward in his chair, glancing down through the spectacles clipped to his nose at some figures on a piece of departmental stationery. “Now. Most weeks the position will require only a few hours of your time, though there will be occasions when I require most of it. The salary is the same regardless—fifteen dollars a week, as well as a deferral for a portion of your tuition. I trust this will be sufficient to keep you with us at Harvard—yes, Finch?”

I was speechless. At last I managed a nod.

“Good.”

We discussed a few administrative details, and then before I knew it the job interview was over and we were shaking hands. As McLaughlin ushered me to the door of his office he suddenly said, “I wonder if you wouldn’t mind my asking a personal question, Finch?”

For fifteen dollars a week he could have asked me how frequently I masturbated and I would have answered him.

“Were you raised in a religious household?”

“My family is Roman Catholic.”

“Devout?”

“I was an altar boy.”

“Ah.”

McLaughlin seemed to glean a significance in my answer I knew it didn’t merit, so I added quickly, “It wasn’t my idea.”

“No, I don’t suppose it ever is!” He seemed amused by this, then continued his strange line of questioning. “Tell me, are you still practicing?”

“I haven’t set foot in a church since my mother’s funeral.”

“I see.”

We had arrived at the office door and stood on opposite sides of the threshold. McLaughlin thanked me for indulging his personal questions, shook my hand a second time, and wished me good night. He was about to shut the door when he hesitated, telling me in parting, “You know, you really should reconsider your policy on churches, Finch. Next week in Manhattan if we have time, we’ll pay a visit to St. Patrick’s. I think you’ll find it has the most remarkable light.”

And with that he closed his office door, leaving me dumbstruck, since never once during the entire time I was in his office had he mentioned anything about a trip to New York.

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Average Rating 4.5
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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 19, 2010

    Mixed feelings.

    I loved the idea - Inamorata has a very interesting premise (a Grad student falls in love with the subject of his scientific investigation). I also loved the subject matter (a study of Spiritualism) and the setting (Philadelphia in the 1920s). Most of all I loved Gangemi's writing. It's smart, funny, moving and detailed. He's written some of the greatest descriptions/similes/metaphors I've ever read. His characters are unique and fascinating. The story is full of drama, humor and suspense.
    HOWEVER...
    When I finished the book I was left with MANY unanswered questions. The plot is underdeveloped. I don't see how some of the plot points fit together - I'm not sure if they do fit together and I'm just not connecting the dots, or they don't fit together, in which case I don't understand why Gangemi even introduced certain plot details. It seems that Gangemi relied heavily on "spiritualism" to fill in his plot holes: instead of providing answers to our questions he writes them off as unexplainable.
    Overall: Though I loved Gangemi's writing, I was really disappointed in/dissatisfied with the story's conclusion. I think Inamorata is still worth a read, but be aware that you'll be left scratching your head.

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  • Posted May 8, 2010

    Inamorata

    I liked this book, the plot is very interesting although at times I felt it wasn't as fully developed as it could have been, and at the end we didn't get the answers to all the questions posed to us throughout. But I did enjoy the writing and I would recommend this book for those who like and are interested in books about mysticism.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 14, 2005

    Something For Everybody

    This book has it all; suspense, drama, psychic phenomena, a tease of sexuality, a history lesson, a tour of the northeast and animal tricks. I read the whole book straight for one weekend; I couldn¿t put it down. I almost hope that Gangemi doesn¿t write another one any time soon, I need the sleep!

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