Author of AGAINST A DARKENING SKY, THE EMPTY ROOM, OUR DAILY BREAD, and others. Find out more at www.LaurenBDavis.com. I read as if my sanity depended upon it.. . . oh, wait, it does! Snort.
Part of the "Book Lust" series of rediscovered, under-appreciated novels championed by Nancy Pearl. Debut novelist Rhian Ellis chose an array of intriguing themes for her psychological thriller, After Life: spiritual mediums, murder, ghosts and things that go bump -- either legitimately or fraudulently -- in the night.
She's got a great opening line: "First, I had to get his body into the boat." Well, if that doesn't keep you turning a page or two, I'm not sure what will.
The book is grounded (ahem) in mysticism and the supernatural, yet circles around the relationship between Naomi Ash and her mother, Patsy -- who also goes by the name Madame Galina. We know from the get-go Naomi has murdered someone and we read to discover the 'whydoneit' revelation bound to appear eventually. But interwoven with the hints of bodies in marshes and relationships gone fatally wrong, is the story of two women bound together by blood and mostly-authentic psychic powers.
The setting is lovely -- a town called Train Line, N.U., home to the largest community of mediums and psychics in the United States. One has to go in front of an examination board before being permitted to practice and call oneself a bona fide Train Line Psychic, which is quite the assortment of odd ducks, as one might imagine.
Naomi honestly believes she has some powers, and whether or not she is an unreliable narrator is left to the reader to decide. Patsy fakes it frequently, but even she, we are led to believe, might occasionally be on to something.
The story skillfully weaves between present and ten years prior, revealing Naomi's relationship with the now-corpse she must wrestle into the boat -- a graduate student named, Peter Morton. Details of his death trickle out . .. now that his bones have been found and the police investigation drifts ever closer. The crisis is inevitable, but here Ellis shows a deft hand. The crisis and denouement are more elegaic than spectacular, more thoughtful than action-packed. No gun fights or car chases here., which feels precisely right.
It's a well-told tale, and if it sags a little in the middle, that can be forgiven. One of the pleasures of reading this book is the particular talent Ellis displays for significant detail and observation. She's a fine prose writer.