Sunday, October 01, 2006

Séance on a Wet Afternoon - Mark McShane

Séance on a Wet Afternoon by Mark McShane
First published 1961.

Opening line: Myra stood and watched her husband's motorcycle and side-car bounce and sway up the unmade, mud-and-rock road and disappear around the corner of the street, then she went back into the house, shivering her shoulders at the March wind.

Séance is in my Top 5 All-time Favourites list. It fits a number of genres but is generally classed as a crime/drama novel. Written by a prolific Australian author, it's quite a short novel (my 1970 Horwitz edition runs to 128 pages) and was made into a film in 1964, starring Richard Attenborough and Kim Stanley.

The novel follows Myra Savage and her husband Bill as they carry out the Plan, which begins with their kidnapping of a wealthy child. Myra is a medium who desperately yearns for fame and acknowledgement of her talents; she holds séances where clients believe she is speaking with the dead, while in reality she is simply reading the client's own mind. Myra plans on contacting the child's parents and pretending to use her talents to direct them to the child's whereabouts. Fame, acknowledgement and financial security will then presumably fall into Myra and Bill's hands.

But the Plan, like most crimes, is not without its flaws. And when the unthinkable happens, Bill desperately tries to cover their tracks. Myra, however, finds this may be a chance to prove herself, once and for all. The final five pages bring together a chilling climax which is what makes this story the masterpiece that it is.

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