Edward Clark is a successful young crime reporter in comfortable circumstances with a lovely, well-connected fiancée. Then an assignment to write a series of exposés on the city’s mediums places all that in jeopardy.
In the Philadelphia of 1869, photographs of Civil War dead adorn dim sitting rooms, and grieving families attempt to contact their lost loved ones. Edward’s investigation of the beautiful young medium Lucy Collins has unintended consequences, however. He uncovers her tricks, but realizes to his dismay that Lucy is more talented at blackmail than she is at a medium’s sleights of hand. And since Edward has a hidden past, he reluctantly agrees that they should collaborate in exposing only her rivals.
The mysterious murder of noted medium Lenora Grimes Pastor as Lucy and Edward attend her séance results in a plum story for Edward—and a great deal more. The pair want to clear themselves from suspicion, but a search spanning the houses of the wealthy to the underside of nineteenth-century Philadelphia unearths a buzzing beehive of past murder, current danger, and supernatural occurrences that cannot be explained…
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Things Half in Shadow
For lack of a better starting point, I shall begin this particular tale on a foggy morning in April of 1869. The mist rose off the water in thick, brownish puffs that reminded me of cannon smoke. It moved in the same skittish manner—an ever-shifting curtain of haze that offered fleeting glimpses of Petty’s Island as the fog approached the dock. I felt a familiar, unwelcome shudder of dread when the fog crashed over us. Tucked in its rolling tendrils was a heady stew of familiar odors. Damp earth. Dirty water. Decay.
With the fog in my eyes and its smell in my nostrils, I couldn’t help but think of Antietam. So much was the same. The early morning chill. The silhouettes of men shimmering within the mist. The stench, getting stronger. As another wall of haze moved in, I cast my eyes to the ground, expecting to see it strewn with the shredded corpses of my fallen brothers.
But I was not at Antietam. I was right here in Philadelphia. On the waterfront of the Delaware River, to be precise, the city sprawling westward behind me. The smell that rode with the fog was merely the remains of yesterday’s catch, sitting a few yards away in a rotting pile of fish guts and lopped heads. The ground, instead of bearing dozens of broken bodies, contained only one. A woman. Fully intact, but dead nonetheless.
Dressed in a gray shift that clung to her body, she looked more girl than woman. Her blond hair, darkened by the water from which she had been pulled, spread across the dock like dredged-up kelp. Sand, pebbles, and streaks of mud stuck to her pale flesh. With her eyes closed and body still, she looked at peace, although I was certain she hadn’t died that way.
It was not, incidentally, the first corpse I had seen that week. I’d seen two the day before—an unlucky pair that had been stabbed in an alleyway on the city’s southern tip. Sailors, caught on the wrong end of a drunkard’s Bowie knife. After witnessing a sight such as that, a dead girl wasn’t so shocking.
Not that I was easily shocked to begin with. In my line of work, death came with the territory. As a reporter for the Philadelphia Evening Bulletin, I was called on to write about a wide assortment of subjects, but the one I covered the most was crime. Murders, mainly. And for a place nicknamed the City of Brotherly Love, there were an alarming number of them.
But the girl on the ground, it seemed, wasn’t a murder victim. At least that’s what Inspector William Barclay, standing on the other side of her body, thought.
“She drowned,” he told me. “The crew of the Cooper’s Point ferry spotted her floating in the river.”
The ferry was docked at Pier 49, ready to make the morning’s first crossing to Camden. Just beyond it, an impatient crowd grew along the end of Shackamaxon Street, waiting to board, with those in the front trying to peer past the line of policemen blocking their way. The rest of the waterfront rattled with activity, even at that early hour. The lumber mills and steelworks to the south were clanging and buzzing beasts. To the north of us, Kentucky boats filled with coal pushed out onto the river. But on the edge of the pier, it was just me, Barclay, and the dead girl.
“So there’s nothing suspicious about her death?” I asked.
Barclay shook his head. “Not particularly. Of course, that’s ultimately for the coroner to decide.”
“I assume he’ll rule it an accidental drowning,” I said. “But what do you think?”
Barclay, who had seen even more death than myself, tried to avoid looking at the corpse again. Instead, he stared at the pile of fish scraps nearby. A fair number of birds—gulls, mostly, but also a handful of crows—circled it, swooping down at regular intervals to scoop up pieces of the stinking bounty. Barclay watched two gulls battle for a bit of tail before saying, “If she was found in the water, then logic dictates that she also died there. So, to answer your question, yes. I believe that this poor girl drowned in the river.”
He looked to me, hoping his answer was satisfactory. He could tell from my expression that it was not.
“You don’t agree?”
“Not precisely,” I said, pausing to let Barclay issue the sigh that I knew was coming. When you spend lengthy periods of time with someone, as I had with William Barclay, you quickly learn their particular habits. For Barclay, that included shifting his weight to his left leg and putting his hands on his hips when he was impatient or sighing when he was annoyed. Since his hands had already fixed themselves on his hips as soon as I arrived, I knew what was next.
“I know your readers are a bloodthirsty lot,” Barclay said, “but try not to turn what’s simply a tragic accident into sensationalistic fodder for your newspaper.”
I intended to do no such thing, although I couldn’t hold the accusation against Barclay. The Bulletin’s readers were rather ghoulish. No crime was too foul, bloody, or unthinkable for them. There was a reason the motto among the city’s crime reporters was “The morbider, the merrier.”
“I’m not wishing that this girl had been brutally butchered,” I said. “All I’m asking is that you not be so quick to conclude what killed her.”
Because Philadelphia is flanked by two rivers, I had seen a fair number of drowning deaths. The lack of oxygen colors the faces of most victims a pale purple. Their bodies are often bloated. Quite a few of them have pieces of flesh missing from the hungry fish that found them before any human got the chance.
The pitiful creature at my feet possessed none of these telltale signs. Granted, she could have thrown herself into the chilly Delaware only minutes before she had been found, yet it looked to me that something else was at work. If it wasn’t for the soaked clothing and the dirt on her skin, someone waiting for the ferry couldn’t have been blamed for thinking she was still alive and merely napping on the bleached wood of the pier.
“She looks at peace,” I said. “As if she had passed in her sleep.”
Barclay sighed again. “So you’re a trained coroner now, I see.”
“I’m simply saying that she doesn’t look like a drowning victim. Surely, you can see that.”
“All I see,” Barclay said, “is that it was a bad idea to grant you access to the police department that your competitors in the press do without. I’m sure the gentlemen at the Times or the Public Ledger wouldn’t ask me to second-guess myself.”
“They also didn’t save your life on the battlefield,” I replied. “Or have you forgotten about that?”
“How could I when you’re always around to remind me? Now, do you have any more questions or can I proceed without further interruption?”
I had no doubt that Barclay was speaking in jest. He and I had been friends for close to seven years now, having met as members of the Union Army. While it was true that, during a surprise skirmish in a Virginia forest, I threw him to the ground before a minié ball to the skull could do the honors, I think he rather enjoyed having me around. Whenever a ghastly crime occurred, Barclay sent a policeman to my house to whisk me to the scene. That’s exactly what had happened earlier that morning. Much earlier than I would have preferred or was prepared for. The bell at the front door clanging at five o’clock had not only jerked me from a deep sleep, but sent Lionel, my butler, practically tumbling down the stairs to answer it.
But now, forty-five minutes later, I was starting to wonder why Barclay had felt it necessary to disturb my slumber and almost cause physical harm to a member of my household staff.
“If this is a simple case of drowning,” I said, “then why am I here? Why are you, for that matter? Certainly a few policemen could handle this. It doesn’t seem important enough to take an inspector away from his home so early in the morning.”
“It’s about the girl’s identity, Edward.”
“Do you know who she is?”
Barclay turned to face the river, where another wave of fog was threatening to crash upon the shore. “We do not. That’s the reason I summoned you.”
“Ah. You want my bloodthirsty readers to try to identify her.”
“Exactly. No matter how she died—and I fully believe it was accidental drowning, by the way—we’ve found nothing to indicate who she is or where she came from. From what I can tell, she looks like she was relatively healthy.”
What he meant was that the girl didn’t resemble those desperate or ill women who sometimes threw themselves into the drink, their pockets stuffed with bricks. Nor did she look like one of the prostitutes who prowled the waterfront. Occasionally, those same wretched women would be found floating down the river, done in by either their employers or one of their customers.
“You think she has family somewhere in the city?” I asked.
“Has no one reported a girl of her description missing?”
Barclay shook his head. “Not yet, anyway. But a vivid description of her in today’s Evening Bulletin might help us find out who this poor thing is.”
The fog bank he had been watching rolled onto shore and enveloped the pier. A policeman burst out of it, leaving tendrils of haze in his wake as he ran toward us.
“Inspector,” he called, “someone is demanding to be allowed onto the pier.”
“Tell them to wait for the ferry like everyone else,” Barclay snapped.
“They don’t want the ferry, sir. They want to see the girl. They think they know her.”
We both turned to the crowd at the cusp of the pier, which materialized into view as the fog bank drifted farther inland. At the front were two women, one young and the other much older. Their arms were linked as they tried to bypass the wall of policemen. The younger one spotted me and Barclay standing next to the dead girl. The wail of grief that followed told us both that she did indeed know the victim.
“Well then, Barclay,” I said quietly, “it appears you don’t need the help of the Bulletin readers after all.”
Barclay took a few steps toward the street and ordered his men to let them pass. As the women, arms now linked more tightly, continued onward in halting steps, I got a better look at them. The younger one appeared to be thirteen or so, although her face was so contorted by anguish that it was difficult to tell. The older woman appeared to be approaching forty. Unlike the girl, her features were as blank and unreadable as a recently erased blackboard.
When they reached us, the girl fell to her knees, keening and crying next to the corpse. The other woman—her mother, very likely, for the resemblance was undeniable—remained standing. She kept hold of her daughter’s hand while staring not at the body but at the river from where it had come.
She said something to the girl in German, words too quick and rough for me to comprehend. Her daughter eventually stood and, still weeping, wrapped her arms around her mother’s waist. Barclay gave her a moment to compose herself before saying, “I take it that you know this girl?”
The girl looked first to her mother, who nodded faintly, then to Barclay. When she spoke, every word was punctuated with grief.
“Yes, sir. She is my sister, Sophie.”
Barclay gave me a brief, knowing look. This turn of events wasn’t a surprise to either of us.
“I’m sorry for your loss,” he said.
The woman nudged the girl. A brief exchange in German followed, their conversation both hurried and hushed.
“My mother thanks you for your condolences,” the girl eventually told Barclay.
“I’m going to need to ask a few questions,” he replied. “Giving me your names would be a good start.”
“I am Louisa Kruger.” The girl gestured to the other woman. “This is my mother, Margarethe.”
I stepped away from them, listening at a discreet distance while Barclay and Margarethe Kruger conversed, using young Louisa as an interpreter. During this complex back-and-forth, I learned that the family lived in Fishtown, just a few blocks from the waterfront. Sophie had last been seen at nine o’clock the previous night, when she climbed into the bed she shared with her sister. Sometime during the night, Louisa awoke to find her sister gone. When she hadn’t returned by dawn, Margarethe knew something was wrong, and they went looking for her.
“And you don’t know when or why she left?” Barclay asked Louisa.
“No, sir. When I fell asleep, she was there. When I awoke, she wasn’t.”
“Does your mother have any idea?”
“She doesn’t, sir.”
“Did your sister disappear like this often?”
I watched Mrs. Kruger’s face as Louisa repeated the question in German. The woman’s stoic expression didn’t change, even as she shook her head. Her daughter, however, revealed her emotions freely, making it clear she didn’t agree with her mother.
“Wir mussen ihm sagen,” she said.
Margarethe Kruger shook her head again. “Nein.”
Barclay moved his gaze back and forth between them. “Is there something wrong?”
“My mother does not want me to tell you that Sophie often left our home during the night,” Louisa said, eyeing her mother with caution. “I am grateful she does not understand English, so I can tell you without her disapproval.”
“Why did your sister leave so frequently?”
“I do not know, sir. I was usually asleep when it happened. But sometimes I heard people at the door, whispering if Sophie was awake. Sometimes she wouldn’t be, and my mother would wake her and send her off with the people who had called.”
“You never asked why?”
“I did once,” Louisa said. “But Mother slapped me and said, ‘Die neugier ist ein gift.’ ”
“What does that mean?”
Louisa lowered her eyes. “Curiosity is a poison.”
Barclay stroked his chin before tugging slightly on the ends of his mustache. It was another one of his gestures that I knew well, indicating he was confused by something and trying to make sense of it all. I often said it made him look like a villain in a penny dreadful.
“How long have you been looking for your sister today?” he asked.
“An hour, sir.”
I glanced at my pocket watch, seeing that Louisa and her mother had been walking the streets since well before five o’clock. They must have searched every square inch of Fishtown before reaching the waterfront and seeing the crowd gathered there.
“When Sophie left during the night, was it uncommon for her to return after sunrise?” asked Barclay.
“Sometimes,” Louisa said, “she would arrive as late as seven or eight.”
“If that’s the case, why did you and your mother go looking for her so early?”
The girl turned to her mother again and presented the question. This time, a flicker of emotion passed over Mrs. Kruger’s face, as quick and unwieldy as the tufts of fog sliding off the river. But it was enough for me to tell she was feeling an enormous amount of pain. The hurt filled her voice as she uttered her response in German.
“My mother says we needed to go looking for Sophie because she knew she wasn’t going to return,” Louisa said on her behalf.
“She suspected your sister had run away?”
Louisa shook her head. “No, sir. My mother says she knew my sister was already dead.”
Barclay’s eyes widened. I suspect mine did the same. For a moment, I thought a mistake was made and that something had been lost in translation. Then Barclay said, “How could she possibly know that?”
“Because,” Louisa said, “Sophie told her so.”
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I was uncertain what to expect when I agreed to read Things Half In Shadow by Alan Finn. Yes, of course I'd read the book’s Amazon ‘about’ blurb, but that only seemed to make the book a bit more ‘mysterious’ and thereby more challenging to categorize into one specific genre. Having also noticed that Things Half In Shadow was 400 plus pages long, I certainly hoped that it would at least be an interesting read – and thankfully, it did not disappoint.Once readers finish the Foreword, they will turn the page and meet a much younger Edward Clark from 1869. At this stage of Clark’s life, he’s a respected crime reporter for the Philadelphia Evening Bulletin – and on this particular April morning, Clark was unceremoniously roused from his slumber at five o’clock and escorted by a policeman to the city’s waterfront. The body of a young woman had just been pulled out of the Delaware River and the police need the Evening Bulletin readers’ help to identify her. William Barclay (a Police Investigator, but also Clark's friend), is labeling this death as an accidental drowning. However, Clark (having seen his fair share of drowning victims) feels that this woman does not visually show any of the signs needed to warrant a death by drowning conclusion. No purpling skin due to lack of oxygen, no bloating of the body – in fact, the woman’s expression is so peaceful that she looks as though she could have passed in her sleep. This debate between Clark and Barclay is interrupted though when an older woman and her younger daughter push their way past the police barrier. Sadly, they are able to identify the deceased woman as their missing sister/daughter. And with that revelation, this case is closed so to speak and Clark trudges off to the paper. Once there, his editor corners him with a very unfavorable-to-Clark assignment – visit the homes of local mediums; participate in their séances and then write a weekly article debunking the myth and proving that each medium he visits is a fraud. This is certainly not Clark's cup of tea – he is after all a well-known and respected crime writer, but his editor will not let him off the hook so easily. Clark must at least give the proposed assignment some sincere thought first. At this point I’ll stop with the book's summation as I really don't want to ruin the reader's journey of discovery. I’ll just state that Things Half In Shadow was a grippingly-good read. Finn has a wonderful writing style and he certainly managed to portray the feel of 1869 accurately. The plot, scenes and characters were exceptionally believable and at times I almost felt as though I was reading one of Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories. Quill says: Things Half In Shadow has it all: murder, mystery and intrigue – with a smattering of some ghostly other-world thrown in for good measure! A fantastic tale and an author we’re looking forward to reading more from in the future. Five stars, and certainly deserving of each one.
Edward Clark has a secret; he was once Columbus Holmes, son of The Amazing Magellan Holmes a famous magician. But then, his father committed a crime, when Columbus was ten, so horrible that Columbus swore he never see him again. He became Edward Clark, crime reporter, and he tried his very best to leave his past behind him. But everything is about to change when he is asked to investigate mediums and cross path with the lovely, but strong willed Mrs. Lucy Collins. This book was fabulous, from the beginning to the end. Magicians, mediums, secret society, murders, ghosts, a hero and heroine that start out hating each other and all mixed into a riveting story. I loved every chapter of the book. The only drawback to the book? I want more, I want more Edward Clark alias Columbus Holmes, I want more Lucy Collins, and I want more stories! I didn't want this book to end. I loved the atmosphere in the book (How I love stories set in the 1900-century), I loved that P.T Barnum made a cameo appearance. I recommend this book strongly to anyone who wants to read a great book!
Things Half in Shadows is a great read. It was full of mystery, suspense, and spookiness. On top of that, it was historical, which I loved. I thought it had a unique had and held my attention throughout. Five stars.
A strong historical mystery set in Philadelphia. Newspaper reporter is assigned the task of debunking the mediums and spiritualists operating throughout the city. The tone of this novel is misty, shrouded, and full of character and characters. Fake spiritualists are present of course, but then some events are not so easily dismissed.
Good story hope their is a sequel
Enjoyed this book very much. The author combines history and spiritulism with mystery. Couldn't ask for a better combo
Things Half in Shadow is a mesmerizing story. Edward Clark is a reporter for a Philadelphia newspaper in the years following the Civil War. Edward, himself fought in the Civil War. One day his editor proposes a story to him. The city is burgeoning with spiritualists and mediums, it seems that everyone wants to get in touch with a loved one. Many of these people are just tricksters and Edward’s editor wants him to go to these séances and expose them as fakes. Edward Clark has a secret which could pose a real problem for him if he takes this assignment. It could also prove to be very helpful in unmasking phony practitioners. Circumstances push him into taking the assignment. His first séance is with a woman named Lucy Collins. Edward quickly determines that her séance is nothing but tricks and writes an article to expose her. But Lucy is no dummy and when she reads the article and realizes what he’s up to, she wants in on the action. She proposes they work together to uncover the phonies, and her first target is Lenora Grimes Pastor, the most renowned psychic in Philadelphia. Lucy and Ed attend one of her séances, and along with the others present, are shocked when Mrs. Pastor suddenly dies in the middle of her trance. The police determine that she was poisoned by injection and now everyone in attendance is a suspect. Lucy and Ed decide to team up to clear their names. But little do they know what adventures their investigation will take them on. I thoroughly enjoyed this story. Alan Finn has done an excellent job of bringing his characters to life and putting them in situations that are unusual but entirely believable. He has also really captured life in the time period. I found his descriptions of the people and places to be very engaging. It’s obvious that he did a lot of research for this book. There is mystery, action, and a little romance, all expertly incorporated into this lively and engaging story. I highly recommend this book, 5 out of 5 stars.
Things Half in Shadow by Alan Finn Inspired by the writings on spiritualism and mystery from great authors like Sir Author Conan Doyle this book is a great complementation of the two worlds of Doyle’s interest. Beginning with the characters and setting this story stands up to Sherlock Holmes in nature. The interesting aspect of the book was the idea of an 18th century newspaper looking into the spiritual movement. The power of the book is how the characters were able to extrapolate and solve the mystery at the center of the story. The book relays on the human nature of the characters to be limited in access to the information that would bring the clues to diabolical conundrum of the book. Having read many of the original stories by Doyle, and other writers who have taken on the mantel of the mystery stories of the 18th century I find this book another one of the great books of the genre.
A brilliantly crafted adventure. I was really pulled into this story. This time period in America makes supernatural occurrences seem completely rational and acceptable. Mysticism, magic, mystery and chicanery combine to create a story full of action and excitement. I didn't want to put this one down. What I loved most of all where the main plot points that coalesced into the final conclusion. So many arcs, in fact, that there could be any number of spin off storylines. The main ending itself is so wide open for a sequel that just begs to be written. Capturing perfectly an America recovering from Civil War and the peoples looking to connect with those that are lost to the afterlife, the story centers itself on Mediums and their craft. Incorporating secret societies and some true supernatural elements lends an eeriness to this suspenseful tale. Carriage chases and deadly fights offer enough action to make the pages fly by too quickly. From the flowing dialog and well researched background to the inclusion of historical figures everything goes right with this story. This is a definite great read and shouldn't be missed.
realy enjoyed the period history. great read. hope there is more to come
Thoroughly enjoyed this book. A bit long but very enjoyable. Wish there was a volume 2 so I could see what Edward and Lucy are up too!
I enjoyed it very much. I hope there will be other books by this author.
Our Review, by LITERAL ADDICTION's Pack Alpha - Chelle: *Copy gifted in exchange for an honest review I utterly enjoyed this book! From the smooth prose that felt like you were sitting down with your best friend to hear a captivating tale, to the setting, time period & characters that drew me in completely, to the story within a story within story that had me chuckling & wondering & waiting for the end, I looked forward to picking this up again and again each time I was forced to set it down. Things Half in Shadow is told in first person as a kind of memoir. The protagonist, Edward, is retelling his adventures to his granddaughter, and spins the tale of what happened when he was asked by his editor to investigate the mediums in Philadelphia and uncover the truth to the newspaper's readers. With the help of an unlikely ally, Lucy Collins (a character I completely adored!), Edward is thrown into a plot full of murder, mystery, subterfuge, secrets, lies, and folly. The complex web that Mr. Finn wove with regards to the arc was utterly captivating, and I chuckled, gasped, shook my head and anxiously awaited each new reveal. I honestly wasn't sure what to expect with Things Half in Shadow. After all, I'm usually an urban fantasy and paranormal romance reader, and this was pitched as a historical with subtle paranormal elements, but I absolutely loved it, would highly recommend it, and will happily venture back into Mr. Finn's imagination again soon.
This novel is a luminously crafted journey into the world of mediums during the Victorian era, in which speaking to the dead through séances was an obsession. The novel immediately draws the reader into the story. Oddly eerie, full of magic and tricks, and unusual characters, this is one awesome tale with its numerous subplots that twist and turn kept me flipping pages at a furious pace. And the story culminates into an utterly satisfying conclusion! The narrative is wonderfully descriptive and lyrical. I also loved the setting which takes place in Philadelphia after the American Civil War when there was an abundance of bereft mothers and widows seeking closure after the deaths of their loved ones. The character of Lucy was very well depicted – a bodacious charlatan with plenty of guts and brash readers cannot help but adore. And at the heart of the story is burgeoning romance. This book has it all – suspense, romance, occultism, revenge, and mystery. A definite must read!
GIven To Me For An Honest Review Things Half in Shadow by Alan Finn is a book that you'll have to hold on because it'll grab you and keep you watching the pages turning and turning some more until the last page. There are the twists and turns that you don't even see coming and they come at a time that you just can't put the book down. This story makes the reader feel like he is a part of the story. It has it all mysticism, magic, mystery and chicanery. All of that combined create a story that is full of action and keep you on the edge of your seat reading and reading some more until you finish it. If you enjoy reading historical fiction and supernational then you will surely love this book. It is a great mystery thriller with a paranormal twist. I gave this book 5 stars but wish I could give it more. This would look good on your bookshelf and even make a great gift for that special friend of yours. I highly recommend this book to everyone. I look for more great books from Alan Finn.