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The Spirit Photographer
Cover of The Spirit Photographer
The Spirit Photographer
A Novel

For fans of Cold Mountain and The Alienist, the stunning debut novel of historical suspense about a charismatic conman haunted—perhaps literally—by a ghost from his past

Boston, 1870. Photographer Edward Moody runs a booming business capturing the images of the spirits of the departed in his portraits. He lures grieving widows and mourning mothers into his studio with promises of catching the ghosts of their deceased loved ones with his camera. Despite the whispers around town that Moody is a fraud of the basest kind, no one has been able to expose him, and word of his gift has spread, earning him money, fame, and a growing list of illustrious clients.

One day, while developing the negative from a sitting to capture the spirit of the young son of an abolitionist senator, Moody is shocked to see a different spectral figure develop before his eyes. Instead of the staged image of the boy he was expecting, the camera has seemingly captured the spirit of a beautiful young woman. Is it possible that the spirit photographer caught a real ghost? When Moody recognizes the woman in the photograph as the daughter of an escaped slave he knew long ago, he is compelled to travel from Boston to the Louisiana bayous to resolve their unfinished business—and perhaps save his soul. But more than one person is out to stop him . . .

With dramatic twists and redolent of the mood of the Southern Gothic, The Spirit Photographer conjures the Reconstruction era South, replete with fugitive hunters, voodoo healers, and other dangers lurking in the swamp. Jon Michael Varese's deftly plotted first novel is an intense tale of death and betrayal that shows us how undeniably the ghosts of the past remain with us, and how resolutely they refuse to be quieted.

For fans of Cold Mountain and The Alienist, the stunning debut novel of historical suspense about a charismatic conman haunted—perhaps literally—by a ghost from his past

Boston, 1870. Photographer Edward Moody runs a booming business capturing the images of the spirits of the departed in his portraits. He lures grieving widows and mourning mothers into his studio with promises of catching the ghosts of their deceased loved ones with his camera. Despite the whispers around town that Moody is a fraud of the basest kind, no one has been able to expose him, and word of his gift has spread, earning him money, fame, and a growing list of illustrious clients.

One day, while developing the negative from a sitting to capture the spirit of the young son of an abolitionist senator, Moody is shocked to see a different spectral figure develop before his eyes. Instead of the staged image of the boy he was expecting, the camera has seemingly captured the spirit of a beautiful young woman. Is it possible that the spirit photographer caught a real ghost? When Moody recognizes the woman in the photograph as the daughter of an escaped slave he knew long ago, he is compelled to travel from Boston to the Louisiana bayous to resolve their unfinished business—and perhaps save his soul. But more than one person is out to stop him . . .

With dramatic twists and redolent of the mood of the Southern Gothic, The Spirit Photographer conjures the Reconstruction era South, replete with fugitive hunters, voodoo healers, and other dangers lurking in the swamp. Jon Michael Varese's deftly plotted first novel is an intense tale of death and betrayal that shows us how undeniably the ghosts of the past remain with us, and how resolutely they refuse to be quieted.

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About the Author-
  • Jon Michael Varese is a graduate of Swarthmore College and the University of California at Santa Cruz. He is currently the Director of Public Outreach for The Dickens Project, and has lectured and written widely on nineteenth-century literature for several outlets, including the Guardian, San Francisco Chronicle, and the National Endowment for the Humanities. The Spirit Photographer, a story that evolved from his work in nineteenth-century American history, is his first novel.
Reviews-
  • Kirkus

    February 15, 2018
    A sprawling, intricately plotted debut novel that combines post-Civil War history with a kind of ghost story.The title character is one Edward Moody ((based on a real man named William Mumler), who worked for Civil War photographer Mathew Brady. Moody was devastated by the horrors he witnessed, and after the war he takes up spirit photography with great success. Clients sit for a photo portrait in Moody's Boston studio, and when the negative is developed, the image of a departed loved one somehow emerges in the background. Sen. James Garrett, a prominent abolitionist, reluctantly accompanies his wife, Elizabeth, for a sitting: She hopes to make a spiritual connection with their son, who died years before at age 3. But--shockingly--the image that surfaces behind the Garretts is that of a young woman of color named Isabelle, who, it turns out, was involved with both Moody and the senator. Moody is determined to find out what happened to Isabelle and launches a search; he is accompanied by Joseph Winter, an escaped slave-cum-Union Army veteran who has become his assistant and who also knew Isabelle. With the police on their heels--Moody is accused of being a charlatan--the two end up in the Louisiana bayou, where they begin to learn the truth about Isabelle and what she left behind. The writing is vivid, even lyrical at times, and the passages on Reconstruction--encapsulated in the prickly friendship between Garrett and the more conservative Sen. Dovehouse--are illuminating. The deep divide in the country circa 1870 is vaguely reminiscent of our own time. But the novel overheats, especially in the endless bayou section, and there are a few too many mystics and mediums on hand. Plus, the endless twists and turns become wearing.In part a meditation on belief, the book is mostly engaging despite being overlong and occasionally preposterous.

    COPYRIGHT(2018) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

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