The Spiritualist Murders

Portia of the Pacific Historical Mysteries, Volume 2

Fiction - Mystery - Historical
233 Pages
Reviewed on 07/26/2018
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    Book Review

Reviewed by Jack Magnus for Readers' Favorite

The Spiritualist Murders: Portia of the Pacific Historical Mysteries, Volume 2 is an historical mystery novel written by James Musgrave. Clara Shortridge Foltz, Esq., had been attending a suffragist meeting at the Supreme Grand Lodge of the Rosicrucians. In the repressive atmosphere of 1886, the spiritualist meetings offered by places such as this were the only venues where women in the suffragist movement could meet. After the meeting, her attention was grabbed by the sight of a young woman crying alone on one of the benches in the meeting-house. She reminded Clara of her own daughter, Trella Evelyn. When she spoke to the young woman, Clara made note of the girl’s distracted and almost unresponsive manner as she bemoaned the fact that “he” had not been called to the stand. Being an attorney, Clara was instantly intrigued. When she learned that the trial was of a woman who had been charged with the murder of her husband, a woman who had been represented by Laura Gordon, a friend and fellow attorney, she was even more determined to parse out the truth in what Adeline had to say.

James Musgrave’s historical murder mystery novel, The Spiritualist Murders: Portia of the Pacific Historical Mysteries, Volume 2, is a fascinating and enjoyable mystery set in San Francisco in the late 1800s. While this is the second book in Musgrave’s Portia of the Pacific series, the author gives enough background information for this book to be read on its own. That said, I’d highly recommend readers begin with the first book in the series, Chinawoman’s Chance, which is an absorbing story that focuses on the challenges faced by women attorneys in that era as well as on the impact of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, and does so in a taut, well-written mystery. In this novel, Musgrave addresses the impact of the Spiritualist Movement and the opportunities it gave women to meet and work for equality and voting rights. The author’s plot is finely honed, offering the armchair sleuth plenty of red herrings to consider, and his characters continue to delight and enthrall. Musgrave brings the San Francisco of the 1880s to life in his novels while offering the mystery lover compelling puzzles and a competent and most appealing attorney/sleuth. The Spiritualist Murders: Portia of the Pacific Historical Mysteries, Volume 2 is most highly recommended.

Deborah Lloyd

This story captures a unique time in American history. Women’s voices were rarely heard, except in the suffragette movement and in the spiritualist community. Clara Foltz and Laura de Force Gordon, the only two female attorneys in San Francisco in 1886, join forces to solve the question of why women are killing their husbands. Time is of the essence as these vicious murders continue. Adeline Quantrill, an eighteen-year-old woman with clairvoyant abilities; Clara’s friend, Ah Toy; Clara’s lover, Isaiah Lees, Captain of Detectives; and her children, Samuel and Trella, become part of the dangerous venture. In The Spiritualist Murders: A Portia of the Pacific Historical Mystery, Volume 2, written by James Musgrave, an intriguing and complex dramatic mystery unfolds. The Winchester House in San Jose, with the character of Mrs. Winchester added to the cast, plays a dominant role in the plot.

The author portrays the time period with great detail and clarity. For example, the fact that Mary Todd Lincoln consulted with mediums after the deaths of her husband and son is mentioned. From clothing fashions to traveling by railroad, the historical descriptions are interesting and instructive. The author's creativity in combining so many different facets of the culture is fascinating for the reader. The character development of each person is strong and subtle. The flow of the story is fast paced, yet the writing style reflects the language of the time. Author James Musgrave has penned a delicious masterpiece in The Spiritualist Murders: A Portia of the Pacific Historical Mystery, Volume 2.

Justine Reyes

The Spiritualist Murders by James Musgrave is the second installment of the Portia of the Pacific Historical Mysteries series. We follow Clara Foltz, a mother, lawyer and a detective of sorts, in 1886 San Francisco. In this novel, Clara meets a mysterious young woman named Adeline Quantrill. Adeline has the gift of clairvoyance and she is also a key to helping Clara track down the person responsible for seducing and mesmerizing women into killing their husbands. With the help of Clara's friends, Ah Toy and Laura Gordon, the story leads us to one of the most haunted places in America, the Winchester Mystery House in San Jose, California.

There are many things I enjoyed about Musgrave's story, but first I should say I'm not familiar with the novel before this one. Regardless, I was still immediately immersed. The concept was something that gripped me from the start: San Francisco in the 1800s, murder, mayhem, and mystery. I appreciate how Musgrave integrated Chinese culture in this period piece, especially because it is in San Francisco. Ah Toy's shady past was a lot of fun to read; it helped incorporate the feeling of adventure, as if with just a stroke of the pen, Musgrave was able to expand Clara's world within this short novel. Additionally, the pacing was magnificent. I never felt overloaded with information or bored, in fact, it was pretty hard to put down this book after I picked it up. If you're looking for a gripping mystery and some spooks along the way, then look no further than The Spiritualist Murders by James Musgrave.

Lit Amri

Someone has hypnotized married women to kill their wealthy husbands. The key witness is 18-year-old Adeline Quantrill, who has a remarkable memory. She’s also a medium, which unfortunately ruins her credibility in court, and a telepathic, which could put her in an asylum if the word gets out. However, 37-year-old attorney Clara Shortridge Foltz is determined to investigate and find the perpetrator. Together with her best friend Ah Toy, former Chinatown Madame and now an artist and art dealer, her fellow attorney Laura Gordon, and her children, they make their way into the world of the occult fueled by greed.

The Spiritualist Murders (Portia of the Pacific Historical Mysteries, Volume 2) by James Musgrave takes place in the late 19th century, San Francisco. As a first time reader of the series, I don’t feel that I missed any vital details of the protagonists as their background is summarized sufficiently in the beginning. To be frank, my knowledge about the 19th-century women's suffrage movement and its important historical figures is scant. Therefore, this is quite an informative read for me. The pace of the plot is slightly quicker than I anticipated. The murders revolve around the teaching of Dr. Paschal Beverly Randolph on ‘magia sexualis’. The way Musgrave handled the historical figures as characters is commendable, blurring the lines between fact and fiction. All in all, the potent combination of history, spiritualism, feminism, and occultism set in an era of social change can be a bit overwhelming but makes The Spiritualist Murders an undeniably interesting read.

K.J. Simmill

Clara was one of only two women practising law in San Francisco, and as such she had a lot to prove, but she also had good instincts. Instincts that saw her befriend Adeline, a young woman she found in distress. When finally she returned to her senses, Adeline confesses to witnessing a murder, in fact, of the witnesses called she was the only who witnessed it happen, and yet she was refused the right to testify; why? Because she not only witnessed the murder, she heard the thoughts of the one committing it. The killer was set free, and Clara is determined to use Adeline and her perfect recall - along with her ability to channel other people's thoughts and memories - to get to the bottom of what happened. But how can you prove something when your evidence is only the word of someone who could be called crazy? You search for evidence, of course, but Clara must be careful. The killer believes he can control anyone, but why commit these acts in the first place. Is it to show their power, or is there something else afoot?

Written in a style suitable for the era, James Musgrave's The Spiritualist Murders: Portia of the Pacific Historical Mysteries Book 2 delivers an intense and vivid scene of San Francisco in the 1880s. While I can't speak for historical accuracy due to unfamiliarity, the feel of the work is very authentic to the time. Musgrave writes an enjoyable narrative that will appeal to a mature audience, as well as those who enjoy a well-worded and conceived plot. As a murder mystery, you are of course asking yourself the how and why, and the spiritual twists give this book a little something extra. Controversy, challenges, sexism, manipulation, and agendas - both concealed and visible - drive the mysteries and the characters forward in a novel that is bound to please lovers of the genre who are looking for something just a little bit different.