The Spirit Photographer

The Spirit Photographer
Jon Michael Varese
Price: £
  • Hardback
3 May 2018
  • Historical Fiction
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The debut historical thriller about a charismatic conman haunted by a ghost of his past.

With dramatic twists and turns reminiscent of Gothic novels, The Spirit Photographer is replete with fugitive hunters, voodoo healers, and dangers lurking in the swamp. Varese’s deftly plotted debut is an intense tale of death and betrayal that will thrill readers as they unravel the mystery behind the spirit in the photograph and what became of her. 

Boston, 1870. Photographer Edward Moody runs a booming business capturing the images of the spirits of the departed in his portraits. He lures grieving widows and mourning mothers into his studio with promises of catching the ghosts of their deceased loved ones with his camera. Despite the whispers around town that Moody is a fraud of the basest kind, no one has been able to expose him, and word of his gift has spread, earning him money, fame, and a growing list of illustrious clients.

One day, while developing the negative from a sitting to capture the spirit of the departed son of a senator, Moody is shocked to see a different spectral figure develop before his eyes. Instead of the staged image of the boy he was expecting, the camera has seemingly captured the spirit of a young black woman.

When Moody recognizes the woman, he is compelled to travel from Boston to the Louisiana bayou to resolve their unfinished business. But more than one person is out to stop him… 


Praise for The Spirit Photographer:

‘A different kind of detective story, The Spirit Photographer is an American gothic novel set in a time of post-war turmoil. Jon Michael Varese has written a very entertaining and haunting story of historical suspense’ New York Journal of Books

‘Meticulously researched and… Perhaps most impressively, Varese manages to make Moody a sympathetic character, despite the fact we know he’s been ripping off needy folk for years… There are plenty of twists and turns that keep the reader guessing until the very end too’ On: Yorkshire Magazine

‘Paints a compelling picture of the US immediately after the American Civil War… there are plenty of twists and turns that keep the reader guessing until the very end’ On: Magazine

The Spirit Photographer incorporates elements of magic realism and Southern gothic… [and] questions the extent to which photography captures reality or alters perceptions. Readers… will find much to investigate and discuss in literary historian Varese's debut novel’ Library Journal 

'Varese’s unique first novel is set deep in the secrets of the postwar years, when the chains of slavery have vanished but an equally sinister underside to society remains. An entertaining amalgam of history and fiction, gothic and ghost story, The Spirit Photographer is an addicting tale' Booklist (starred review)

‘A sprawling, intricately plotted debut novel… The writing is vivid [and] even lyrical at times’ Kirkus

‘Richly endowed with a precise sense of period and locale, this is a debut novel of genuine authority; Varese is clearly a name to watch’ Barry Forshaw, author of The Rough Guide to Crime Fiction

‘I loved its wholehearted Gothic approach, its skilfully rendered nineteenth-century setting, and the roguish but conflicted Mr Moody – a very satisfying read. It's bound to appeal both to lovers of the supernatural and to anyone with a serious interest in post-bellum American social history’ Elizabeth Lowry, author of The Bellini Madonna

‘A finely researched, vibrant and disturbing portrait of mid-nineteenth century America. Through the emotional manipulation of spirit photography, inspired by real life practitioner William H. Mumler, Varese exposes the aftermath of slavery and the corruption of politics at the highest level. An atmospheric, sinister and thrilling novel, and a terrific debut’ David Davies, author The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes Series

‘A stunning first novel that combines the thrills of mystery and fantasy with the feel of historical authenticity. Jon Varese makes nineteenth-century America come alive with an elegant and fluid style. A fine accomplishment’ Bruce Levine, author of The Fall of the House of Dixie

‘The Spirit Photographer unexpectedly brings race and Southern Gothic to the world of Boston after the Civil War . . . Ghosts of a different kind haunt national memory in this groundbreaking new historical novel’ Susan Gillman, author of Blood Talk: American Race Melodrama and the Culture of the Occult

‘Varese's debut novel weaves the fictional and the real; history imprints on the novel like a spirit on Moody's photographs…Teeming with spirits, secrets, and trauma, The Spirit Photographer is a sprawling, ambitious, and uncomfortable debut’ Chronogram

 ‘Through the protagonist Moody we learn of the horrors of Reconstruction and the strength of love. . . .The writing is crisp, and the storytelling keeps a quick pace and helps illuminate the racial inequalities during the Reconstruction period. Varese’s debut is . . . an intriguing look at the Reconstruction period through a unique lens’ Historical Novels Review

‘An outstanding novel [which] truly brings alive the era. The racial oppression and fight for civil rights is covered in resounding accuracy’ Anne Bonney, book blogger

‘If you only buy/read/borrow one book this year it has got to be this one!’ Nerd Problems 

‘In The Spirit Photographer spirits lurk in the memory, as does the scarcely buried history of slavery. Atmospheric, lyrical, and poignant, the novel deftly interweaves strands of history and fantasy’ Pop Matters

‘Blurring the line between Southern gothic and an old-fashioned ghost story… "The Spirit Photographer," a haunting tale of romance, revenge and regret.’ Times Free Press

‘The ramifications of the central plot echo through all of the characters’ lives and no one is left untouched by the beautiful and tragic experience of the spirit in the photograph.’ Well Fed

‘It's a book that is beautifully written with a fascinating story. Jon Michael Varese has truly captured the period’ Fresh Fiction

‘Jon Michael Varese’s deftly plotted first novel is an intense tale of death and betrayal that will thrill readers as they unravel the dreadful mystery behind the spirit in the photograph and what ultimately became of her.’ The Most Sublime

Jon Michael Varese

About Jon Michael Varese

Jon Michael Varese is a literary historian whose focus has been the significance of the nineteenth-century British novel in both the UK and America. He is the Director of Public Outreach for The Dickens Project at the University of California and the editor of the signature edition of Great Expectations (2012). The Spirit Photographer is his first novel.