cover image The Haunting of Alma Fielding: A True Ghost Story

The Haunting of Alma Fielding: A True Ghost Story

Kate Summerscale. Penguin Press, $28 (384p) ISBN 978-0-525-55792-0

Edgar winner Summerscale (The Wicked Boy: The Mystery of a Victorian Child Murderer) illuminates the bizarre events that afflicted Alma Fielding, a suburban London housewife, in 1938, in this mind-bending historical investigation. In February of that year, the British press began covering the activities of an alleged poltergeist in the Fielding home. The spirit reportedly broke glasses, threw pots and coins, and even transported an unbroken light bulb from one part of a room to another. The occurrences attracted the interest of Nandor Fodor, the chief ghost-hunter for the International Institute for Psychical Research. Fodor gained the confidence of the Fieldings and spent months observing oddities and exploring rational explanations for them. Fodor’s experiments and tests led him to conclude that Alma, who suffered from repressed trauma, faked the incidents. Fodor’s analysis won the support of Sigmund Freud and his experiences influenced Shirley Jackson’s writing of The Haunting of Hill House. Summerscale vividly recreates the four months in 1938 that fascinated a Britain seeking distraction from Hitler’s ominous aggressions, and reconstructs the events and the secret inner torment that led to Alma’s brief appearance in the spotlight with sensitivity and a novelist’s gift for narrative. Readers will be riveted. Agent: Melanie Jackson, Melanie Jackson Agency. (Apr.)