INAMORATA

Joseph Gangemi, Author . Viking $24.95 (319p) ISBN 978-0-670-03279-2

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.

Reviewed on: 12/01/2003
Release date: 01/01/2004
Paperback - 336 pages - 978-0-14-303459-9
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