In 1899, a séance was held at the Morley Mansion in Boston, Massachusetts. The millionaire Roderick Morley was desperate to contact his murdered friend. He hoped to clear himself of suspicion by identifying the true killer. The séance went horribly wrong, though, and Morley left the room—to commit suicide.
By 1903, the Morley Mansion was deemed haunted! The new owner hired Vera Van Slyke, an odd but brilliant ghost hunter. With her assistant, Lucille Parsell, Vera quickly realized that, to banish the ghost, the two would have to solve the murder.
But a fugitive murderer wasn’t the only shadow cast over the Morley Mansion. A fake medium had performed at that séance, a shame-ridden woman who called herself: “Lucille Parsell.”
And, sometimes, guilt is a ghost that can never be banished.
274 pages, trade paperback
“The mystery in Guilt is a Ghost is complex enough that it warranted a novel length story. There are a few non-action scenes with characters discussing matters, but I like spending time with Vera and Lucille. Their conversations are never a hardship. Vera is a lunch-and-beer-loving character after my own heart.” — Katherine Nabity, The Writerly Reader.
“The mystery is engaging, all the more so for how emotionally significant the case is to Lucille.” — Nina Zumel, Multo (Ghost).
Loren Rhoads interviewed me about Guilt Is a Ghost as part of her 5 Questions series. Click here to read that. Loren is also an accomplished author, whose books are well-worth considering for purchase. (I especially recommend her global tour of graveyards, 199 Cemeteries to See Before You Die.) You’ll find details about her books at the same site.
The Second in the Series, But…
I call Guilt Is a Ghost the “synquel” to Help for the Haunted: A Decade of Vera Van Slyke Ghostly Mysteries. It’s not a prequel — and it’s not a sequel — because the two books overlap in terms of time. Each book stands on its own, but the underlying chronology is this:
- The first four chapters of Guilt Is a Ghost are set in 1899. This is when journalist Vera Van Slyke exposed a fake Spiritualist medium named Ludmila Prášilová (aka Lucille Parsell) at the Morley Mansion in Boston. Despite this strained first encounter, Vera found her “Dr. Watson” in Lucille, a woman who went on to be her lifelong friend.
- Help for the Haunted opens by referring to this first encounter and picks up a few days afterward. During an interview for a book on phony mediums, Vera invites Lucille on a ghost hunt and shows her that, while séances are typically fake, ghosts are entirely real! Four more of their supernatural investigations follow, taking the reader through 1902.
- The remainder of Guilt Is a Ghost takes place in 1903 as the ghost-hunting duo return to the Morley Mansion. It’s haunted now, and their history there is mingled with that haunting!
- The sixth case in Help for the Haunted — titled “An Unanchored Man” — opens by referring to the Morley Mansion case and picks up immediately after it. The remaining seven ghost hunts in this book then carry readers through 1909.
This might seem a bit complicated, but it’s really not: the two books are simply companion volumes. As I say, they’re each designed to stand alone and be read straight through, so you can start with either before deciding to read the other. The key difference is Help for the Haunted is a “composite novel,” comprised of thirteen distinct yet interwoven adventures, while Guilt Is a Ghost is a more traditional novel featuring a single, complex investigation.
The History Behind the Hauntings
Much of the intrigue of Guilt Is a Ghost is the very real history woven into it. Two of the main characters, Harvard professor William James and Chief Inspector William B. Watts were real people as were the criminal cases Watts mentions. The books named can all be found, often online (though, sadly, I’ve never been able to find a copy of Vera’s Spirits Shouldn’t Sneeze: A Decade of Debunking Mediums). In addition, the layout of Boston’s streets and buildings is true to 1903.
Nineteen people were killed near Salem, Massachusetts, for allegedly practicing witchcraft. Well over 100 were so accused.
The Bell family became plagued by strange phenomena on their farm in Robertson County, Tennessee. Unaccountable knocking and other odd sounds developed into a voice from a spectral entity calling herself Kate. She grew increasingly aggressive toward the Bell children and became known as the Bell Witch. Two of the earliest documents describing the haunting are an 1856 newspaper article titled “The Tennessee Ghost” and a paragraph an 1886 book titled History of Tennessee, from the Earliest Time to the Present. An interesting article from 1922 on the topic is “A Witch as Was a Witch.” The author, Irving S. Cobb, grew up hearing the legend and even claims to be descended from a man who investigated it.
The Night Side of Nature; or, Ghosts and Ghost-Seers, by Catherine Crowe, was first published. This became Vera’s most prized book in her library of works on ghosts and related phenomenon.
Harvard professor William James assisted in the formation of the American Society for Psychical Research. Soon afterward, the Society formed committees, including one for mediumistic phenomenon and another for apparitions and haunted houses.
Phony faith healer Francis Truth was arrested with assistance from William B. Watts, Chief Inspector of Boston’s Bureau of Criminal Investigation.
As Vera and Lida seek help from Boston’s Bureau of Criminal Investigation, they come upon a publicity stunt meant to promote a steam-powered patrol car. Boston was the first police department in the U.S. to have such a vehicle.