A Murder Mystery Séance: A Review of Things Half in Shadow by Alan Finn
Updated: Apr 16
The temperature continues to drop and my need for mysteries and horror novels continues to grow. As promised, I bring you a full fledged review today. A review on one of, if not my number one, favorite murder mystery. Today I bring you a review of Things Half in Shadow by Alan Finn, AKA Todd Ritter, AKA Riley Sager.
This historical fiction mystery was published all the way back in 2014, and nothing has diminished my love for this novel. Seriously, when someone asks me for a book recommendation nine times out of ten I recommend this book; it’s just so good.
I’m also anxiously waiting for the sequel. A sequel was promised all the way back in 2015, and it said that the sequel will pick up right where the first book leaves off. Todd Ritter I am waiting! I’ve been waiting!
Typically, I start with the main characters or plot and what I like and dislike about them, but today I want to start with the writing. Finn recreated a postbellum Philadelphia that is so detailed I feel like I can navigate through the city. I’ve never been to Philadelphia, and the Civil War ended nearly 160 years ago, but I am convinced I can expertly navigate the city that most certainty hasn’t changed in the past hundred years.
It’s not just the city that’s perfectly described, it’s every single scene and character. The detail Finn put into the entirety of this book is absolutely insane. Action scenes, namely the séances, are movies in my head. Lucy Collins and Edward Clark, the book’s two main characters, are sitting right beside me when I read this because their appearances are so perfectly described. Between appearance and personality, Finn’s writing creates a vivid description in my mind. I feel like I’ve known these two for ages. Their personalities shine through the hundreds of pages as do their character arcs. This book is not words on a page, this book is a theatrical masterpiece for the mind.
Listen, this review is mainly going to be me singing this book’s praises, and there are many. A spoiler alert is also in order for the entirety of the book.
I’ve already said that the characters are extremely life like to me, but I haven’t touched on what either of the two main characters are like. I’ll start with Lucy since she’s my favorite.
Lucy is a spitfire. Her life was not easy, the odds were very much against her, but she consistently got up and carried on. She carries on as this charismatic, coy, brash business woman who knows how to get what she wants with just a bat of her eyes. Behind this mask she’s very broken, like I said, her early life wasn’t the greatest as it turns out she ran away with an abusive man at 14. She’s a fighter.
My only issue with her is that she can come across as a 2010’s feminist. At times it does feel as if she could have walked off a modern day city street somewhere. Part of her doesn’t fit into the late 1800’s. She loud and brash, something very different from what women of the time were expected to be. While I’m not saying women like this didn’t exist back then, something about Lucy just feels disconnected from the time period.
The other main character of this novel goes by the name of Edward Clark. He’s a crime reporter who gets assigned the task of exposing Philadelphia’s fake mediums. I realize now I haven’t given you any idea what this book is about, but we’ll get to that in a minute; let me tell you more about Edward. As he is a journalist, and more specifically a crime reporter, he’s chosen for the medium assignment as he’s a pretty no-nonsense guy. He’s someone who believes in reality, not mirrors and illusions or the possibility of life after death. Much like Lucy, he too has a secretive past that he’s desperate to keep hidden.
Unlike Lucy, Edward is a character I have no issues with. If I was looking for something to nit-pick I could say that he seems too perfect in solving crimes; remember, he isn’t a detective. This book starts with Edward traveling to a crime scene where the police are convinced a young woman tragically drowned, but Edward believes she was murdered just because she didn’t look like every other drowning victim he had seen before. Things come a little too naturally for him when it comes to crime solving.
It’s not just the two main characters who are fleshed out. All supporting characters have their good and bad traits. Every character has a purpose, and every character is necessary to this story.
At this point, you’re probably asking yourself what this book is actually about. It is a masterpiece. Things Half in Shadow follows Edward Clark, our intrepid reporter, is tasked with exposing fake mediums in the city of Philadelphia. The first one he chooses to visit is a one Mrs. Lucy Collins. She is not pleased when she discovers Edward’s scheme. In order to prevent Edward from writing about how she’s a scam artist, spoiler alert, she teams up with him to expose other fake mediums. Once they begin to work together, they set their eyes on their first target: Lenora Grimes Pastor. Upon attending her next séance, she mysteriously dies in the middle of the event. Now, forced to band together, this odd duo must work to clear their names before one of them is arrested for a murder they did not commit.
This mystery is so well done. Every clue, every lead, every misdirection is so perfectly placed within the pages of the novel. Finn makes sure that Things Half in Shadow goes in every direction it possibly can with more detail than you can imagine. Plot holes? They don’t exist. Questionable plot points? There’s only one.
Truly, my only qualm I have with this book is the plotline of the Praediti. The Praediti are a group set on exploiting ghosts for monetary and power gain. Their motivations are fairly standard in what you would expect from a villain group. The main villain readers meet is basically a Voldemort look alike who is just evil for the sake of being evil.
The Praediti are not the focus of this book, and perhaps if more time was spent either with the group or learning about them, their plotline would feel more fulfilled. Perhaps, since Finn has said he would like to continue Edward and Lucy’s story, the Praediti will be explored more in the future. But as they sit now, they are the worst part of Things Half in Shadow. Again, Todd Ritter, I am waiting for the sequel! I’m getting hella impatient, where is it?! Please tell me it's coming soon!
While I sit here waiting for the day news of a Things Half in Shadow sequel is to be published, I leave you with these words: READ THINGS HALF IN SHADOW!