The Paperback Review: “Seance on a Wet Afternoon” (1961)

1965 printing of Seance on a Wet Afternoon
1965 printing of Seance on a Wet Afternoon

I was on another one of my paperback hunts when I found Seance on a Wet Afternoon in a section of books titled, “Why not read the movie”. The film adaptation was released in 1964, starring a younger Richard Attenborough, but the book was published in 1961, written by Australian author of suspense/crime fiction, Mark McShane. I was not familiar with the author or the title, but the word “Seance” in the title struck a chord in me and forced me to purchase the 128 page novel printed by Crest Books. And a noteworthy purchase it was too.

The story is about Myra and Bill Savage, a husband and wife pair of kidnappers with a scheme that they call “The Plan”. The Plan involves kidnapping young Adrianna Clayton, daughter of the wealthy Charles Clayton, and to hold her ransom, but more importantly, receive notoriety. Myra Savage is a “sensitive”, or a medium, and her plan is to use her powers to inform the police of the missing child’s condition and whereabouts. Myra’s fed up with hosting weekly seances with the more kooky neighborly types where she’s required to put on the performance of reaching the far frontier that we sometimes call the “other side”. It’s all a hoax, one that she’s not proud of, but must do in order to make a living. She rarely reaches the other side during these seances, but upon being a prime suspect of the kidnapping and raising the attention of the president of the Society for Physical Research, Myra Savage will travel further than she’s ever gone before.

Here’s a profound inner thought of Myra Savage’s, written by McShane: “…she reflected on how much death belied the truth; it denoted end and decay, when it was actually a vivid beginning.”

The story is expertly plotted with all the unnecessary fat cut out. It makes for a very enjoyable read, one that can be completed in a single afternoon (preferably an afternoon that is wet and rainy) alongside a nice, hot cup of tea. The writing and characters are very British: elegant, yet simple. Polite on the surface, yet scathing below. The twists will make you cringe from heartbreak, yet scream with enthusiasm at how effortlessly they were established by the writer. You’ll not want to put this little paperback down. I know that I didn’t, not only because of the suspenseful story, but because of the beautifully illustrated cover. My love for paperbacks of decades past is largely due to the artwork on the front cover. They say, “Don’t judge a book by its cover”, but I say, “Oh, pish posh and nonsense. I’ll buy that book for its cover!”.

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