Boston, 1859. A nation on the brink of war.
Confidence men prowl the streets for fresh marks. Mediums swindle the newly bereaved. Into this world of illusion and intrigue comes William Mumler, a manipulating mastermind and criminal jeweler. Mumler hopes to make his fortune by photographing spirits for Boston's elite. The key to his venture: a shy girl named Hannah who sees and manifests the dead and washes up on Boston's harbor along with her strange, intense mother, Claudette.
As Mumler and Hannah's fame grows throughout Boston, everybody wants a piece: Bill Christian, a brothel tough; Algernon Child, a drunken rival; Fanny A. Conant, a sly suffragette; and William Guay, a religious fanatic. These rogues among a host of others, including the great spirit rapper Kate Fox, form powerful bonds with the spirit photographers, one of which will end in murder. Mumler's first and last mistake: the dead cannot be made to heel.
Roughly based on the real-life story of William H. Mumler, spirit photographer and his clairvoyant wife, Hannah Mumler, Shadows in Summerland immerses the reader in a shifting world of light and shade where nothing is quite what it seems at first glance. A soaring and resplendently Gothic novel spanning three decades, it is as much an homage to the Golden Age ghost stories of Edith Wharton and Henry James as it is a companion to the revisionist historical epics of Peter Carey and Sarah Waters, with a little steampunk all its own.
Spirit photographers, clairvoyants, ghosts real and imagined, religious fanatics and rogues abound in Shadows in Summerland by Adrian Van Young. A soaring and resplendently Gothic novel spanning three decades, as much an homage to the Golden Age ghost stories of Edith Wharton and Henry James as it is a companion to the revisionist historical epics of Peter Carey and Sarah Waters, with a little steampunk all its own. – Sandra Kasturi
". . . a deeply disquieting portrait of 19th Century America. . . . A fabulous and weird addition to the contemporary fantastic."– Laird Barron, author of X’s for Eyes
"Shadows in Summerland is an extraordinary novel certain to enchant readers of Sarah Waters as well as those looking for a thrilling and transporting gothic tale rich in atmosphere and unforgettable characters, dead and alive."– Julia Fierro, author of Cutting Teeth
"Shadows in Summerland is a rich, strange, elegant novel of the supernatural, firmly rooted in the best of classic gothic fiction. . . . A superb achievement of weird fiction by a burgeoning master."– —Michael Rowe, author of Enter, Night and Wild Fell
". . . a witty and disturbing horror novel: it's as if Henry James had written an issue of Tales From the Crypt."– Bennett Simms, author of A Questionable Shape
Mumler in the Dock
I sit here before you unjustly accused. I sit here at your mercy, reader.
We three sit before you, a congress of rogues, and all our fates are intertwined.
There is I, William Mumler, the spirit photographer. There is Hannah, my wife, who can reckon the dead. There is William Guay, our Poughkeepsian friend, who has up to this juncture protected our interests. And these are just the tattered souls who sit here left and right of me in the Year of Our Spirit 1861, bearing credible witness, in Suffolk Court's dock.
Publically we are accused of fraud and larceny most foul.
Privately we are accused of a murder that cannot be publically proven on account of the fact that the man it concerns cannot be verified as dead.
Put forward uniquely, such charges might crush us. Taken together, they cancel each other.
For now we sit here in our cells—mute, incoordinate, fearing the worst. The jail is a piece of well-meant legislature, the new human way to prohibit and punish—four long wings of Quincy granite branching from an octagon with enormous arched windows admitting Charles Street where people, in their freedom, go. Not so William Mumler, confined behind bars, impotent and indisposed, his head inclined into a storm of rapists, pickpockets, cardsharps and abusers in a ten by four space where the sunlight itself, shining raggedly into the arms of the cross, has not the slightest character, the slightest touch of heaven in it. While forever the knocking of implements, scratching, the grunting of a hundred apes, those sad and headstrong bouts of sound that men fallen into the sere will enact.
And though I am not one of them, I am neither, however, completely not guilty.
But I didn't bamboozle American mourners, and I didn't murder the man that they say.
It is these crimes and these alone for which I am brought here to answer today.