by Joseph Gangemi
Published by Viking
319 pages, 2004
Reviewed by Chris Gsell
One part paranormal, one part mystery, one part love story, Joseph Gangemi has concocted a spooky, supernatural thriller in Inamorata. Stirring fact with fiction, bringing to mind Glen David Gold's Carter Beats the Devil, Gangemi takes his readers into the world of mediums and psychics. Set in Philadelphia in the 1920s, during a time when the meta-physical world was becoming more popular with mainstream crowds, Inamorata chronicles the story surrounding the most famous medium there was at the time, Mrs. Mina Crawley.
Martin Finch, a 23-year-old Harvard grad student has just been handed the job of his lifetime. His professor, Dr. William McLaughlin, has assigned Finch to a special task force. As the head of an elite committee within the Scientific American, Dr. McLaughlin is out to either prove or disprove, conclusively, the existence of the supernatural world. With a huge prize on the line for concrete evidence, Finch enthusiastically accepts the job.
After proving himself a natural by debunking his initial cases, Finch finds himself the head of Scientific American's biggest case yet. Waiting for him in Philadelphia is Dr. Arthur Crawley and, more importantly, his wife, Mrs. Mina Crawely. Mina happens to be a wealthy Philadelphia socialite who has gained national attention with her abilities to contact the dead. The Scientific American team travel to Philadelphia to investigate her.
From the end of the very first séance, it appears that Mina may be the real thing. But Finch, still the skeptic, holds off on awarding her the cash prize. Despite his fellow colleague's requests, he wishes to continue with the investigation. Working close with Mina, Finch's personal feelings begin to cloud his perception and soon he is enamored with her. Mina's whimsical flirtations and understated beauty do nothing to squelch Finch's feelings for her.
Did Mina do this on purpose? Is this all part of a master plan devised by the Crawley's to dupe the Scientific American committee? Or are Martin's feelings valid and Mina a bona fide medium, a real conduit between two vastly different worlds?
As their relationship grows and the nightly readings become more elaborate, Finch is torn between his responsibilities towards his team and his personal feelings for Mina. Even while trying to discredit her, Finch is falling in love with Mina and wants to believe everything about her, including her feelings towards him. As this rift widens within Finch, Inamorata's pages can't turn themselves fast enough.
Gangemi creates remarkably believable characters. Martin Finch is a compelling go-getter out to prove his worth to the team members. You root for him in the beginning as he proves himself again and again, refuting case after case. He's the underdog that is actually winning. Even when he falls for Mina, you still sympathize and even relate.
Mina Crawely is shrouded in mystery. Throughout the book, you are not sure about her true intentions. She comes across aloof and flirtatious at the same time. Coupled with her good looks, it's hard for Finch to resist. Gangemi emits from her a lovely, yet elusive quality that makes it hard for Finch, and the reader, to turn away from. Her character has several sides, keeping the reader guessing about her true intentions.
In addition, Gangemi's re-creation of Philadelphia, circa 1920, reads like an historical account of the time. The city itself plays a significant role in the novel, leading Finch down alleyways and into speakeasies and old hotels. The streets, brownstones and people come alive within the pages, supplying the reader with an excellent sense of Philadelphia, then and now.
Also worthy of mention is how Gangemi crafted his words and the tone that pulses throughout his novel. It's reminiscent of that unsettling feeling you have when you know something is not quite right but you can't put a finger on it. The narration by Finch, the characters and even the book itself call out to you, even when you aren't reading. The subtle, eerie undertones laced throughout the pages unnerve you, but in a good way.
My complaints with the book are few and only lie in the development of some of the minor characters or, lack thereof. With such strong character development in Finch, Mina and even Dr.'s McLaughlin and Crawley, minor characters begin falling by the wayside. For example, the other members of Scientific American's team, Fox, Flynn and Richardson, blend together into one character. Trying to distinguish one member from the other gets somewhat confusing and eventually I just gave up. The same can be said with the Crawley's cook. She could have easily been written out of the book because she is so easily forgotten. But, these are only minor quibbles on my part and do not distract from the book in any way.
Now for the ending. Without giving anything away, there are a few surprises left towards the end. A few surprises that will keep you thinking. You won't find all the answers tied up neatly with a pretty bow on it. That, as you will come to realize, does not happen within the pages of Inamorata. The overall tone of the book carries a creepy feel to it. And it's Gangemi's disturbingly understated milieu that will stay with the reader long after that final page is read. | April 2004
Chris Gsell lives in South Jersey. By day he works for an ad agency, at night he enjoys reading and writing about books.