Other Worlds

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9780061097492: Other Worlds

Those present include Harry Houdini, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, psychoanalyst Nandor Fodor, and a writer who rivals them all with her sleuthing talent. These masters of mystery are about to put their minds to a pair of ghoulish stories--of families beset by poltergeistly pranks and bewitched by inexplicable horrors. Gripping puzzles, yes, but the terror of these tales is all too vicious and all too real.

In the hollows of Tennessee, a family is threatened by a dire spirit whose warnings of despair and death come frighteningly true....

In a small Connecticut town, a newly married widow and her children move into her second husband's home to find their lives possessed by an unimaginable demon....

Were these villains phantom spirits or evildoers of flesh and blood? Dare to find out in this masterful delight from Barbara Michaels--a tale as frightening by daylight as it is by darkness."

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Review:

Barbara Michaels (who also writes as Mystery Grandmaster Elizabeth Peters) is known for cozy romantic suspense, but Other Worlds is indeed another world of fiction for her. Set "outside time and space, in the realm of the imagination," the book is an all-star team meeting among several of the most famous dabblers in the world of the occult. These include American magician Harry Houdini, Sherlock Holmes creator Arthur Conan Doyle, Nandor Fodor (former director of the International Institute for Psychical Research), Frank Podmore of the Society for Psychical Research, and a few other guests over two nights. Michaels establishes the purpose of their gathering in a brief opening passage, an exchange between Doyle and Podmore: "During our evenings together we enjoy a busman's holiday, applying our combined expertise to the investigation of famous cases that have never been satisfactorily explained. Sometimes we agree on a solution; more often we agree to disagree." On the two evening meetings recorded in this volume, the group addresses two ghost tales. The first narrative is of the Bell Witch, a ghost that haunted the Bell family for several years in 19th-century Tennessee. The second details the 1850 invasion of the Phelps family of Stratford, Connecticut, by demonic forces. In both cases, the story is followed by the commentaries of the guests, as each of them tries to explain away or justify the occult elements.

The collection has merit as a diversion for fans of classic ghost tales, and it has much the flavor of Poe and Hawthorne's stories of the supernatural. But, ultimately, the two narratives do not hold up well in their frame. Since, from the start, Michaels declares that the meetings among Houdini et al. are to be regarded as imaginary, much of the suspense is lost; then, the format (a story followed by analysis and criticism) undermines the suspense further as the reader witnesses the plot being pulled apart and rewritten by her various narrators. Fans of Michaels's other work may be disappointed by the lack of romance here, too (though Betsy Bell's ill-fated first love is a centerpiece of the Bell Witch tale). Nonetheless, Michaels's experiment in ghost narratives is an interesting one, and it is a pleasure to watch her assume the voices of these famous male figures in their antiquated, smoke-filled, gentleman's club of dreams. --Patrick O'Kelley

About the Author:

Elizabeth Peters (writing as Barbara Michaels) was born and brought up in Illinois and earned her Ph.D. in Egyptology from the University of Chicago's famed Oriental Institute. Peters was named Grandmaster at the inaugural Anthony Awards in 1986, Grandmaster by the Mystery Writers of America at the EdgarŽ Awards in 1998, and given The Lifetime Achievement Award at Malice Domestic in 2003. She lives in an historic farmhouse in western Maryland.

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