Friday, 9 January 2015

The Witch of Napoli by Michael Schmicker

Reviewer: Liza Perrat, author of Spirit of Lost Angels and Wolfsangel

What we thought: Set in Italy in 1899, The Witch of Napoli is inspired by the true-life story of the controversial Italian spiritualist physical medium, Eusapia Palladino (1854-1918). Palladino’s expensive performances involved, amongst other things, levitating herself and tables, materializing, and communicating with, the dead, and producing spirit hands and faces in wet clay. Some believe these things to be the result of trickery, however many parapsychologists regard Palladino as a baffling, impressive and genuine Spiritualist medium.

In this same vein, The Witch of Napoli tells the story of the Neapolitan peasant and medium, Alessandra Poverelli. When the flamboyant and volatile Alessandra levitates a table during a Spiritualist séance in Naples, a reporter––Tomaso Labella––photographs the miracle. This leads the rich, but skeptical Jewish psychiatrist, Camillo Lombardi to Naples to investigate. When Alessandra materialises the ghost of Lombardi’s mother, he funds a Continental tour to challenge the exclusive European academics to test Alessandra’s powers, in the hope that she will help him redefine, and rewrite, science. At the mercy of her violent husband, Pigotti, who wants to kill her, Alessandra sees Lombardi’s payment as a way of escape, and the means to start a new life in Rome.

Naturally, Alessandra hits the newspaper headlines, and the public is curious. Does she truly have these supernatural powers?

Nigel Huxley, the impeccably dressed and extremely confident upper crust detective for England’s Society for the Investigation of Mediums––who also has a reputation as a genius for detecting the mechanics of fraud––hatches a plan to try and expose Alessandra.

To say anything more about the story would be to spoil the ending of The Witch of Napoli, so all I shall reveal is that the investigation, the pressing question of Alessandra’s authenticity, and the lyrical narrative engaged me right from the beginning. The author’s personal experience as an investigative journalist and nationally-known writer on scientific anomalies and the paranormal also adds great authenticity to this story. I would highly recommend The Witch of Napoli to readers with an interest in the supernatural, and the ongoing debate over the existence of life after death.

You’ll enjoy this if you like: tales about supernatural powers

Avoid if you don’t like: historical fantasy stories about erotic mediums and dead people coming back to life.

Ideal accompaniments: Spaghetti con Fegatini with a tumbler of Chianti

Genre: Historical Fantasy

Available from Amazon

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