The Witch of Lime Street is a non-fiction book for those of us with a pretty specific niche interest: turn on the century Spiritualism.
This is the first book I’ve come across that discusses the complicated “frenemy” relationship of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Harry Houdini.
Just in time for their new show on Fox!
That Houdini casting is on point. I am so ready to nitpick historical inaccuracies in this. So. Ready.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
The Witch of Lime Street focuses on Houdini, a medium known as Margery (Mina Crandon), and Scientific American’s quest to find a true medium at the height of the 20th century’s spiritualist movement. Two key historical characters in the narrative are noted believer, author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and noted skeptic, magician Harry Houdini. The two came together as friends who believed legitimate communication with the dead was possible and came apart as historical frenemies.
Let’s first discuss that the book cover glows in the dark. It is perfection.
The Goodreads consensus seems to be “good topic, boring book” to which I heartily disagree. I haven’t technically finished the book yet, I’m too busy having panic attacks about grad school to read for pleasure, but less than 100 pages from the end and I can say that I’ve been thoroughly engaged the whole time.
That’s what makes me think this book is not for those with a casual interest in Spiritualism/the Occult. This isn’t a high-academia text, but I can’t help but wonder if I’m so engaged because I’m reading about a topic that I love and have actually lectured on. This is my jam, yo. I think it’s a well-written book, broken up into perfect little nuggets that really capture the cultural attitude towards mediums and the cult of celebrity that followed them (and also Houdini!).
One thing I really appreciated about this book was the treatment it gave Houdini. The man was a skeptic and is often portrayed as someone who simply wanted to bust some medium balls. Houdini’s relationship with the spirit world was far more complex than that, and he wanted to believe in a way Jaher makes palpable. It was Houdini’s desire to be proven wrong himself that fueled his anti-medium campaign.
David Jaher’s biography doesn’t tell you much about his background with the subject, but I came across a Reddit AMA he did about the book and reading through that I can tell that this man has really, really done his research- above and beyond what appeared in the book.
For me, this book was the perfect intersection of academic research and relatable writing. I highly recommend it to anyone interested in the Spiritualist movement.
I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.