The Blackheath Séance Parlour, by Alan Williams, is a deliciously macabre gothic horror. There is no reining in of detail to protect readers of more delicate sensibilities. The story is brutal, disturbing yet is told with panache.
The central characters are two middle aged sisters who, when the story opens, are in dire financial straits. The chocolate shop that they run barely makes enough money to feed them let alone support their copious drinking habits. They realise that a change of direction is required.
The elder sister, Maggie, is a determined character who is used to being in control. Her younger sister, Judy, acquiesced to her demands but has grown tired of their poverty. She has had an idea, to turn their shop into a séance parlour. Despite her many objections, vociferously and repeatedly articulated, Maggie agrees to Judy’s plans.
Alongside the main narrative is a further story, presented as the text of a novel which Judy is writing. This plot involves two wealthy, beautiful and enigmatic siblings who harbour monstrous secrets on which their lives depend. Their background is presented in searing detail. They are the creation of a brilliant, abominable scientist who believed his work was more important than other’s lives.
The séance parlour is a sensation as is Judy’s book. Suddenly the sister’s lives are transformed but at a terrible cost.
There are many strong and skillfully developed characters within this book. Even the abhorrent among them have presence and clarity which inspires awe alongside the loathing. Despite the gore, the horror, the unleashing of powers from beyond the grave, at no point does it feel gratuitous.
The author has taken age old ideas and injected them with originality and depth. The historical detail is fascinating, the gentle mocking of the masses delicious. A skillfully written story which I enjoyed reading immensely.
My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Cutting Edge Press.