The Seance

The Seance

3.6 122
by John Harwood

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A haunting tale of apparitions, a cursed manor house, and two generations of women determined to discover the truth, by the author of The Ghost Writer Sell the Hall unseen; burn it to the ground and plow the earth with salt, if you will; but never live there . . .” Constance Langton grows up in a household marked by death, her father distant, her mother in


A haunting tale of apparitions, a cursed manor house, and two generations of women determined to discover the truth, by the author of The Ghost Writer Sell the Hall unseen; burn it to the ground and plow the earth with salt, if you will; but never live there . . .” Constance Langton grows up in a household marked by death, her father distant, her mother in perpetual mourning for Constance’s sister, the child she lost.Desperate to coax her mother back to health, Constance takes her to a séance: perhaps she will find comfort from beyond the grave. But the meeting has tragic consequences. Constance is left alone, her only legacy a mysterious bequest that will blight her life.
So begins The Séance, John Harwood’s brilliant second novel, a gripping, dark mystery set in late-Victorian England.
It is a world of apparitions, of disappearances and unnatural phenomena, of betrayal and blackmail and black-hearted villains—and murder. For Constance’s bequest comes in two parts: a house and a mystery. Years before, a family disappeared atWraxford Hall, a decaying mansion in the English countryside with a sinister reputation.Now the Hall belongs to Constance. And she must descend into the darkness at the heart of theWraxford Mystery to find the truth, even at the cost of her life.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
Praise for The Ghost Writer


“Elegantly paced and delightfully macabre, [The Ghost Writer] celebrate[s] the Victorian school and its obsession with the past’s authority over the present, the thin line between affection and obsession, the glimpse of the lurid from the corner of the eye.”—Washington Post Book World

The Ghost Writer manages to evoke both the confident past and the more anguished present of the genre, and even to suggest, slyly, that although the illustrious tradition of the genteel British ghost story remains with us, we need to be very, very careful about disturbing its rest.”—New York Times Book Review

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Artfully re-creating 19th-century supernatural suspense, The Séance offers a near-total immersion into a haunted Bloomsbury world.

"If my sister Alma had lived, I should never have begun the séances." Constance Langton was only five when her life changed irrevocably. With the death of her younger sibling, the Langton household descended into a deep melancholy. To relieve her mother's sorrow, Constance resorts to a common Victorian nostrum: spiritualism. That decision leads to more tragedy, plunging the young woman into a borderline world where apparitions, possession, and murder hover in the air. This evocative tale by the International Horror Guild Award–winning author of The Ghost Writer is a perfect fit for readers of G. R. James and Wilkie Collins.
Publishers Weekly

Set in Victorian England, Harwood's spellbinding second novel (after The Ghost Writer) pays homage to such 19th-century suspense masters as Wilkie Collins and Sheridan LeFanu. When orphaned gentlewoman Constance Langton inherits Wraxford Hall, a derelict mansion on the Suffolk coast, from an aunt she has never met, the lawyer handling the conveyance warns her to sell the hall unseen. When he sends her a bundle of documents concerning the home's history of death, madness and occult apparitions, Constance feels a deep affinity for Nell Wraxford, who disappeared from the hall with her infant daughter years earlier under suspicion of murdering her enigmatic husband, Magnus. Hoping to clear Nell's name, Constance visits the hall with a group of psychic researchers. Harwood invokes the hoariest clichés of supernatural suspense, from stormy nights to haunted houses, and effortlessly makes them his own. The novel's voice, too, is superbly crafted, accurate for the period but never self-consciously antique. (Feb.)

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Library Journal

A lichen-laden manse in the foggy English countryside, rumors of mysterious dis-appearances, generations of damsels in distress, long-lost diaries revealing dangerous secrets-these elements of a first-class Victorian thriller are in Harwood's sophomore offering (after The Ghost Writer, the 2004 International Horror Guild Award winner for best first novel). Beginning with Constance Langton's narrative in 1889, Harwood reveals his creepy tale via the testimony of various characters whose veracity could be doubted. The plot is set in motion when Constance, who's been dabbling with psychics in a desperate attempt to ease her mother's anguish over the death of Constance's sister, inherits Wraxford Hall, a 20-year-old diary, and an admonition to burn the haunted mansion to the ground. But Constance, one of those plucky Victorian heroines readers love, is mesmerized by the diary's tale of murders, kidnappings, and strange scientific experiments that took place at the hall; she determines, despite personal risk, to unravel the mysteries. Harwood, who has been compared to Wilkie Collins, has crafted a fast-paced ghost story with an old-fashioned touch. Recommended for all public libraries.
—Sally Bissell

Product Details

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date:
Edition description:
First Edition
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.20(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.90(d)


Meet the Author

John Harwood is the author of two previous novels of Victorian Gothic suspense. Aside from fiction, his published work includes biography, poetry, political journalism and literary history. His acclaimed first novel, The Ghost Writer, won the International Horror Guild's First Novel Award. He lives in Hobart, Australia.

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The Seance 3.6 out of 5 based on 2 ratings. 122 reviews.
chookio More than 1 year ago
This novel was a real page-turner. Twists and turns till the end of the book. I loved it, and I believe anyone who enjoys 19th century novels set in England will love it, also.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Harwood creates a wonderfully rich Gothic feel in this sometimes predictable work. There is enough of the literary tradition to satisfy, but with a twist to the ending that is fulfilling. The central characters are well developed through description and action, and the settings and feel for the time are superb.
Books-Is-Tasty More than 1 year ago
I rate it higher than most people did, and frankly I don't see why others rated Seance so low! It was a marvelous read. Supernatural, romantic, some surprises, it had a bit of it all!
MarilynHS More than 1 year ago
This was a very good representation of a modern day Gothic thriller. I enjoyed it immensely especially the ghost stories within the story.
BarnesNobleFan More than 1 year ago
This is the second book that I picked up by this author (the first one I didn't finish because it seemed to bounce around too much). I didn't find this book creepy enough, evem though it provided some chills and atmosphere. The whole suit of armor thing was a bit strange... I guess I expected something a little different because of the title.
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arbjamesAJ More than 1 year ago
Having absolutely loved Harwood's The Asylum, I decided to read The Seance. While I don't think it was quite as good as The Asylum, The Seance still did not disappoint. A mystery unfolds through several generations attached to the decaying Wraxford Hall. The narrative begins with the story of Constance Langton. Her mother's paralyzing grief over Constance's sister's death, the lack of any kind of mother/daughter bond between the two of them, and Constance's father's eventual desertion make Constance a desperate young woman. She turns to spiritualism to try to bring her mother back from her grief, and the consequences of a seance meant to give her mother peace are disastrous. Then Constance discovers that she is heir to Wraxford Hall, and that's when the story really gets complicated. We shift narrators several times, from Constance to John Montague, to Eleanor Unwin/Nell Wraxford and back again. Their tragic stories are inextricably interwoven as one man, Magnus Wraxford, exerts his influence on them all. Constance is forced to question everything she thinks she knows about her own life. Everything hinges on the crimes committed one awful night at Wraxford Hall. It is up to Constance to sort out the truth of it all while she still has time. Harwood's work is so engrossing that you won't want to put it down, and even if you figure out parts of the mystery on your own before the reveal, you likely won't figure it all out completely. I love that. I get tired of solving the mysteries early on and plodding through the rest of the book until the characters catch up! I look forward to any future work from Harwood.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Wanted something a little more fast paced and exciting. Well written though.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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books77 More than 1 year ago
It was pretty well written. it kept me interrested .
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I couldn't put this book down. Harwood has a way of writing where you feel like you are in the story. I read this book two years ago and I still remember everything about it. Amazing!
miamimom More than 1 year ago
An excellent gothic tale! I found it hard to put down with just the right amount of suspense and Victorian atmosphere! Loved it!!
1-pageturner_ More than 1 year ago
A thoroughly entertaining read. There are many crossroads along the way and unexpected revelations. I highly recommend this book to all who like a refreshingly unique "whodunit" and will the real heroine step forward please?
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Not as scary or creepy as I was hoping for, but still a VERY good book. Love the way the stoey was told from diferent viewpoints.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A fun read, especially on a very stormy evening! Set in the 19th century, this novel is so full of twisty turns you might want to down some Dramamine before you begin. Don't expect a true scare factor here, though, cuz it's suspense - and LOTS of it. There is a multi-character narration, which could get mangled in the hands of a lesser author. Here? No problem. One suggestion? You may want to keep a list of characters and their roles handy. I read this in 2 sittings and STILL kept going "Geez. WHO was THAT again?!" There are many, many folks involved here! And the "family tree" dealio just wasn't helping quite enough.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I just read this book and it was okey, not the best. I wish there was a little more suspence. A little to slow and not very scary.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is an enjoyable read but it didn't challenge me on an intellectual level, as in I don' t feel compelled to go back and reread it. The title is somewhat deceptive. Although there is a seance or two they aren't what binds the story. The ending was a bit abrupt. I felt the was a page missing but it really was the end.